Top commercial fishery in years wasn't expected

The best chum salmon run in years has come to local waters, unexpectedly, and commercial fishermen who didn’t expect it netted the waters for four days last week,  with more days potentially to be tacked on after last Friday.

“Things picked up quite good reminiscent of the good days of chum returns,” said local Fisheries and Oceans manager Dan Wagner.

“This year a surplus wasn’t forecasted.”

But it happened. The ministry announced a one-day commercial chum fishery from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday August 8, and after good returns were seen extended it another day, and then two more.

In total, four 16-hour commercial fishing days came about by last Friday,  and industry veterans said it’s been a long time since they’ve seen anything like it.

This year is similar to 2006/2005,” said Wagner. “2007 to 2010 have been unusually low returns for chum.”

Last year ... it was pretty poor. We forcasted a surplus and there wasn’t,” he said.

A fish surplus means the local hatchery has caught what it needs to meet it’s spawning quota and river and ocean counts are good, said Wagner.

As the northwest doesn’t have the technology to count fish in the streams like some areas down south, the department of Fisheries and Oceans uses assessment fisheries to calculate returns. One assessment fishery, the  Gil Island fishery near Hartley Bay, saw fisherman pulling about 600 chum salmon each day into their boats this year.

“It means they’re catching chum that are headed toward Kitimat hatchery,” Wagner said.

The hatchery needs  700 female chum and 500 male chum to spawn approximately 1.9 million baby salmon, which are released back into the water.

“They were making sets in the couple hundred range [per day],” said Wagner. “Those are good numbers.”

And based on these numbers, the first day of commercial fishing in the Douglas Channel was set.

Twenty three commercial boats dropped anchors and nets in and around the Kitimat Arm, located about 25 kilometres south of Kitimat, last Monday and Tuesday. By Thursday, some fishermen left and 15 boats continued fishing.

It might go on for a three week period... the number of days varies on fleet size and numbers to be caught,” said Wagner.

After seeing dwindling fish returns over the last few years, fishermen were glad to see a change.

“It used it be good every year, but it’s been dismal for the last few,” said veteran commercial fisherman  Allan Thompson, who’s travelled from Steveston in the lower mainland to fish the waters around Kitimat most of his career, and did so last week.

Thompson said the last time he fished the area was two years ago by Eagle Bay, and it didn’t compare.

“This year was good,” he said. “They’re letting us keep sockeye, coho and pinks too.”

“Sockeye returns to the Kitimat have been quite good this year...we expect to meet our escapement goals for pinks and coho returns have been strong

pinks they were always allowed to keep.

After Monday, Tuesday of last week, Thompson netted 945 fish.

He said most of the boats, who like himself are run by a single fisherman, catch about the same.

He said he caught 580 chum, which he can sell for $0.28 per kilogram, 30 coho which he sells for $0.79 per kilogram, 300 pink which he sells for $0.14 per kilogram, and 35 sockeye, which he sells for $0.79 per kilogram.

“Prices aren’t good,” he said.

But the man who estimates he bought 90 per cent of the fish caught from Monday and Tuesday, owner of Richmond-based fish processing company Ocean side Fisheries, said he spent close to $70,000 buying about 41,000 kilograms by last Wednesday.

The salmon are shipped to Vancouver for processing and meat and eggs are sold on the Vancouver market.

The total amount of fish caught and sold have yet to be tallied.

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