Some British Columbia sockeye runs way down

Posted: Friday, August 12, 2005

PRINCE RUPERT, British Columbia (AP) — Canadian small-boat fishermen who rely on sockeye salmon from the Skeena River are reeling from a drastic decline in the fishery.

The Skeena sockeye run, initially forecast to be 1.2 million fish, has been about half that number, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said.

Sockeye returns on the Nass River are also down but less drastically, and the binational Pacific Salmon Commission also expressed concern for runs in the Fraser River, the province’s most productive sockeye stream.

Government scientists say they don’t know the reason for many of the low returns.

The number of juvenile sockeye leaving Babine Lake on the Skeena was normal, but few have made it back as adults.

Gillnetter Fred Hawkshaw said he had caught 35 sockeye this year.

‘‘It’s real serious and the public needs to hear about it,’’ Hawkshaw said. ‘‘There’s no fish farm issue, no apparent disease issue and if we believe Fisheries, there was millions of fry out there.

‘‘That’s the big mystery. Where did all these fish go?’’

Ocean survival seems to be the smoking gun right now, said Steven Groves, the Canadian government’s acting area chief of fisheries resource management.

Meanwhile, the bilateral commission, which helps regulate sockeye that are targeted by fishermen in northwest Washington state as well as in British Columbia, said Tuesday the Fraser River fish numbers remain so far below initial forecasts that a commercial salmon fishery may not be allowed.

Commission experts also noted that water temperatures in the river are higher than normal at this time of year and are forecast to rise even more in the next few days, further threatening the survival of sockeye as they head for their spawning grounds.

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