The Fraser River Panel met Friday, September 3, to receive an update on the migration of the Fraser Sockeye and Pink salmon runs to date and review the status of migration conditions in the Fraser River watershed.
Sockeye and Pink catches in the Area 12 purse seine test fishery have declined and continue to fluctuate over the last 4 days with Sockeye catches ranging from 87 to 328 and Pink catches ranging from 193 to 1,472. Sockeye catches in the Area 20 purse seine test fishery have also been low and variable in the last 4 days with catches ranging from 11 to 67. Pink catches in the Area 20 purse seine test fishery have been variable as well with Pink catches ranging from 413 to 3,875 in the 4 days. Gill net test fishing catches of Sockeye at Cottonwood and Whonnock have declined in the last 4 days, with lows of 2 and 6 Sockeye, respectively. Pink catches at Cottonwood and Whonnock have declined as well over the last 4 days with the exception of a sharp increase to 63 Pinks at Cottonwood on September 2.
The most recent Sockeye DNA samples from the marine area test fisheries indicated that between 0% and 3% are Early Summer run stocks, between 76% and 77% are Summer run stocks, and between 20% and 24% are Late run stocks. The most recent DNA samples from Cottonwood and Whonnock gill net test fisheries indicated that between 0% and 2% are Early Summer run stocks, between 75% and 89% are Summer run stocks, and between 11% and 23% are Late run stocks. The current 5 day average Sockeye diversion rate through Johnstone Strait is estimated to be 73% based on information from the purse seine test fisheries.
The most recent Pink DNA samples from the Area 12 and Area 20 purse seine test fisheries indicated that the Fraser River Pink salmon contributions have decreased in Area 12 from 63% to 51% and in Area 20 from 64% to 47%. While it is still early in the migration, the current 5 day average Fraser Pink salmon diversion through Johnstone Strait is estimated to be 20%.
The total Sockeye escapement at Mission to September 2 is estimated to be 1,696,300 of which 69,200 are Early Stuart Sockeye, 110,100 are Early Summer run stocks, 1,367,700 are Summer run stocks and 149,300 are Late run stocks. The total Pink escapement at Mission to September 2 is estimated to be 1,499,700.
During the Panel call today the run size for Early Stuart Sockeye remained unchanged at 69,000 with an Area 20 peak timing of July 5 and the run size for Early Summer run Sockeye also remained unchanged at 115,000 with an Area 20 peak timing of August 4. As a reminder there is no TAC for Early Stuart and Early Summer run Sockeye at these run sizes. The run size for Summer run Sockeye was increased to 1,475,000 and an Area 20 peak timing of August 13. There is no TAC for the Summer run Sockeye at this adopted run size as the Panel also adopted a management adjustment for Summer run Sockeye given higher water temperatures during the majority of the Summer run migration and recent increased observations of poor fish condition as well as observations of milling and laboured fish in areas of the mid-Fraser. The run size of Late run Sockeye was increased during the Panel call today to 300,000 Sockeye and an Area 20 peak timing of August 18. At this run size for Late run Sockeye there is no TAC available as the run size remains below the spawning escapement target.
During the Panel call today the run size of Fraser River Pink salmon remained unchanged at 5,700,000 Pinks with an Area 20 peak timing of August 18. The US is planning some modest commercial fisheries to harvest the small amount of US TAC that remains at this run size. At the Panel meeting today US Pink fisheries were extended in 4b, 5, 6c through until September 7 with non-retention in place for Sockeye. In addition net fisheries are planned to open, with limited fishers starting September 4 with non-retention Sockeye restrictions in place. For details on US fisheries planned for Panel Area waters refer to the Pacific Salmon Commission Regulatory Announcement from today’s Panel meeting. In Canada, Pink salmon First Nations FSC fisheries are being considered with Sockeye non-retention restrictions in place. The Pink run size will continue to be assessed and will be re-evaluated during upcoming Panel meetings.
Increasing numbers of Chinook and Sockeye salmon continue to migrate above the landslide at Big Bar in the Fraser River upstream of Lillooet, with moderate abundances of Sockeye spawning in their natal streams in the upper Fraser watershed. Recently Pink salmon have been observed passing Big Bar as well. Significant work has occurred over the winter and spring months to further improve passage for fish, combined with robust assessment programs to evaluate passage success, as well as mitigation measures including fish transport and brood stock collection for enhancement purposes. Additional information can be found at the following link: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/pacific-smon-pacifique/big-bar-landslide-eboulement/index-eng.html.
The observed water temperature at Hope on September 2 was 16.6°Celsius which is 0.3°Celsius below average for this date. Water temperatures are forecast to increase to 16.8°Celsius by September 8. The Fraser River discharge at Hope on September 2 was 1,847 cubic meters per second which is 25% below the average discharge for this date. Discharge levels are forecast to drop to 1,688 cubic meters per second by September 8.
The sixth spawning ground report of the season was provided by DFO Stock Assessment on September 2. The counting fence at Scotch Creek was fish-tight and operational as of August 4, and 9,141 Sockeye have passed through the fence to date. Cyclic visual surveys of Early Summer run populations in the North and South Thompson Rivers began August 16 with Sockeye observed as near the peak of spawn. Visual surveys have been conducted in the Lower Fraser watershed with Sockeye in the upper Pitt system reported to be holding, in the upper Chilliwack River reported to be past peak of spawn and Sockeye in the Nahatlatch River are nearing the peak of spawn. The Nadina River and Stellako River hydroacoustic sites were operational on July 24 and July 25, respectively. To August 29, 6,152 Sockeye have been enumerated at the Nadina site and 11,969 Sockeye have been recorded at the Stellako site to August 31. The second visual survey of Gates Creek was conducted on August 28 with 3,342 Sockeye observed holding in the Creek. The Quesnel and Chilko hyrdroacoustic sites have been operational since August 5 and 6, respectively. To August 31 a total of 26,183 Sockeye have been recorded at the Quesnel site and 126,653 at the Chilko site to August 31. Visual surveys of the Raft and Bridge River systems observed Sockeye spawning with Sockeye in the Bridge River nearing the peak of spawn. The Birkenhead River hydroacoustic site was operational on August 20 and 209 Sockeye have been estimated past the sonar site through August 31, but the crew did note technical issues with the hydroacoustic system between August 26 and 31. The Cultus Lake fence was installed on July 26 and 3 Sockeye has been manually counted through the fence or passively recorded on video to August 22. The water temperature in Sweltzer Creek is 25°Celsius.
First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) Sockeye fisheries have been closed to Sockeye retention to date as there is no identified TAC for any Fraser management group. A limited Sockeye directed FSC fishery has been licenced in the Chilcotin watershed due to the strong return of Chilko Sockeye. Expectations are for a spawning escapement to the Chilko River that exceeds the Wild Salmon Policy upper benchmark by a considerable amount. The fishery and run size information will be reviewed regularly in the coming weeks to ensure management objectives are achieved. In addition another terminal FSC fishery has been licenced in the Stuart River watershed on Late Stuart Sockeye which are returning at a run size which is projected to result in an escapement in excess of 200,000 spawners. This would be one of the largest escapements since 1993 and well above the WSP lower benchmark of 126,400. As a result, a directed Sockeye fishery has been approved and is anticipated to catch less than 5,000 Sockeye. Fishing opportunities directed at Chinook salmon for FSC purposes have occurred to date with non-retention restrictions in place for Sockeye. Recent increases in Pink Salmon abundance in marine areas has resulted in an interest for Pink salmon directed FSC fisheries. As a reminder, all FSC fisheries in the Fraser River with the exception of the Chilcotin and Stuart fisheries currently have non-retention restrictions in place for Sockeye.
FSC fishers in marine approach areas as well as the Fraser River are requested to check for the opening times and any restrictions in their local area. Commercial and recreational fisheries are not anticipated on Fraser River Sockeye in 2021.
The next in-season meeting of the Fraser River Panel is scheduled to occur on Tuesday, September 7, 2021.
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