While it is too early to make an accurate estimate of the Skeena's sockeye run this year, the forecasts don't look good. Run size is estimated to be 684,000 to 713,000. That is a far cry from the large record runs of 5,000,000 fish returning to the Babine many years ago.
As of this writing Sockeye are closed on the whole Skeena River downstream from the Babine. This is a very popular fishery on the Skeena especially around Terrace. Many anglers and visitors enjoy this run, when you can catch this most delicious salmon and enjoy the fight on light tackle. This also means no commercial fishery once again, and a curtailment of First Nations Selective fishery. Although many anglers will miss this fishery it does have a bit of a silver lining. If there are no commercial openings it also means that more Steelhead, Coho and Pinks will get past those non-selective nets.
There will be a Sockeye opening on the Babine River of 2 fish per day. This opening is the usual single, barbless restriction but is also fly fishing only, meaning a fly rod and reel has to be used.
Much has been written about BC's dismal Sockeye returns. The returns to the once famous Adams River, the Horsefly, the early Stuart, and the Stellako all on the Fraser system and low returns to the enhanced Babine system are shadows of former returns. Many discussions are held and theories are expounded but little gets done. The catch all phrase, it is "ocean survival" or "global warming" seems to be the easily used excuse. Sometimes it seems that high priced help yields the poorest lame excuses.
I remember a visiting angler who was also a computer geek and took 20 years of Tyee Test Index data and did a graph of daily returns of Steelhead over that three month period. The graph showed the steady climb upwards until the opening of the commercial fishery and that is when the bottom fell out. It stayed that way until the commercial season ended when the graph started a steady climb. A three year old could see the difference. When I showed this to a biologist I was told that the commercial opening had nothing to with it, it was "ocean survival".
As a comparison, up in Alaska the Bristol Bay Sockeye fishery this year is estimated at 39,700,000 fish which is 13% above their ten year average. What about their "ocean survival" or 'Global warming"? Do they come from the same Pacific Ocean?
Sockeye runs on Vancouver Island are also in trouble but a group is trying to do something about it. Water coming out of Great Central Lake is too warm reaching up to 24C. Sockeye die in those temperatures. They want to pipe cold water from the bottom of the lake to cool the river. Warm water is also the problem for our own Stellake, Francois Lake runs and the Early Stuart runs. Another problem is the fishway ladders on the Stamp River. The fish do not use the fishways in the dark but they found that lighting the ladders led to a 5- 15 times more fish ascending the ladders. They didn't stack up in those warm waters with the high mortality rates.
All this to say, we need to run our fisheries management on science not politics. We saw what happened to the East Coast Cod Stocks. We don't need that to happen to our West Coast Salmon. Can we learn from how Alaska manages their fish? Probably. The time for endless talk is now. We need to manage all our wild salmon and Steelhead to the max. If it means curtailing fish farms, stopping gravel extraction or the many other harmful activities to the rivers, so be it.