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Sockeye flooding the Fraser

Mike Armstrong and Glenn Budden haul in salmon during a commercial fisheries opening Tuesday. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
Mike Armstrong and Glenn Budden haul in salmon during a commercial fisheries opening Tuesday.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

Millions of sockeye salmon are now in the Fraser River, but that doesn’t mean a fishing frenzy in what’s supposed to be a bountiful year.

“There are thousands of fish going by our community right now, but we’re not allowed to catch any of them,” said Rick Bailey, councillor with Katzie First Nation.

Concerns about the strength of the early summer sockeye run that are still in the river have Fisheries and Oceans Canada cautious about allowing a catch that could threaten future early summer runs.

“We basically can’t fish until they’re gone,” Bailey added.

But once tests show that the early summer run has passed, there could be another economic opportunity fishery for the band.

Economic opportunity fisheries allow First Nations to catch fish for commercial purposes.

So far this summer, there’s been only one such opportunity for Katzie, Kwantlen and Matsqui First Nations, in which the combined catch was 10,000 sockeye salmon.

As for the food, social and ceremonial fishery, "we have caught our allocation of FSC," said Bailey.

That means the 50 or so Katzie First Nation fishing boats are waiting to hear from fisheries about dates for another economic opportunity fishery. Notice could come Friday.

Bailey said it’s a good year for the sockeye fishery, “in the sense there’s lots of fish coming in.”

Earlier estimates predicted a massive run of 70 million. But that number’s been scaled back.

Still, the numbers have been encouraging. According to Fisheries, the early Stuart run is estimated at 233,000; the early summer run is estimated at 2.2 million; and the summer run is estimated at 6.3 million sockeye. Numbers from the late summer run, the largest portion of the Fraser River sockeye, are still not in.

Bailey, though, has been told by fisheries that there is a body of fish from Haida Gwaii to the Georgia Strait. Those are now in Johnstone Strait.

“There’s a pile of fish coming.”

The flow of the Fraser River is 17 per cent lower than average for this time of year, while the water temperature is three degrees higher than average.

“Sustained high water temperatures can cause severe stress to migrating sockeye and may lead to significant en route mortality,” fisheries said.

Phil Eidsvik was one of the commercial fishermen on the Fraser River, just off the Port Hammond dock in Maple Ridge for an eight-hour opening Tuesday.

The average haul for each boat was about 600 sockeye for the day.

“We’re expecting maybe four more days,” he said. “This is the first time we fished for sockeye since 2010.”

Eidsvik, with the Area E Gillnetters Association, estimated the value of this year’s sockeye run on the B.C. coast at $400 million.

Eidsvik said only about 10 per cent of the catch is sold off the docks, such as at either Port Haney or Kanaka Landing. Instead, the catch is unloaded on to packing boats for processing and export, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the catch.

“Most of our fish will go into export markets.”

With two commercial openings so far and a few more expected before the end of the season, there now will be fresh sockeye for markets in Canada and the U.S.

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