With the sockeye run nearing its end, fisheries officials say the numbers returning to spawn on the Adams River will likely match the 2014 dominant run.
In the third week of August, the late-run sockeye salmon run was estimated to be nearly seven million returning to various spawning grounds in the Shuswap, with an estimated 750,000 expected at the Adams River.
By mid-September and based on several test fisheries in the Strait of Georgia where the salmon gather every year before starting their journey up the Fraser River, the forecast had dropped to 4.7 million fish, with about 2.5 million of that number already caught in commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries.
“The pre-season forecast was more than 7 million, then dropped down to six then five; there is a recognition that those forecasts are so variable,” says Mike Lapointe, chief biologist with the Pacific Salmon Commission, noting decisions on how many sockeye will be made available for fishing are not made on the original return forecast. “We meet every week with the (Fraser River) panel and the tech guys (to determine the number available of fish).”
The forecast of the expected return rises and falls over the summer as trollers complete three-day tests and is the reason why fisheries are limited at the beginning of the run in case the numbers go down.
On Oct. 12, Lapointe said there were three things of significance in this year’s dominant run, an event that takes place every four years.
Catches in the lower Fraser River and fish passing a monitoring station at Mission both dropped dramatically between Oct. 9 and 12. An ocean survey completed from Oct. 3 to 6 estimated only 40,000 to 70,000 sockeye remained in the Strait of Georgia, confirming there were not many left in the strait to migrate. Thirdly was the reduction in the estimated return from 5 million to 4.7 million based on surveys taken in August, September and October.
Lapointe said reducing the estimate would mean about a 10 per cent hit to the 750,000 late-run sockeye expected to reach the Adams River spawning grounds, bringing it to about 675,000.
The dominant run in 2010, with eight million sockeye returning to the Adams River, was considered a one-in-100-year event.
As it takes the salmon anywhere from 10 days to two weeks to make the return trip to their spawning grounds, there are expected to be good numbers of fish to see this week in the Salute to the Sockeye Festival at Tsútswecw Provincial Park, which continues to Sunday, Oct. 21.
“I think it’s a good run just based on the number of sockeye fisheries official have tagged on the Lower Adams,” Lapointe says.