Sunday, 7 February 2016

Salmon Outlook 2016

DFDO’s outlook on salmon numbers, upon which sport opportunities depend, is now out for 2016. See:

The gist is that fishing is not going to be as good this year as it was last year. Crunched into one paragraph: 91 Outlook Units were considered and outlooks categorized for 84. 29 OUs are likely to be at or above target abundance (categories 3, 4, 3/4), while 32 are expected to be of concern (categories 1, 2, 1/2). The remaining 23 OUs have mixed outlook levels (categories 1/3, 1/4, 2/3, 2/4). Overall, the outlook for 2016 has declined relative to the previous outlook. 11 OUs improved in category.

The good news for Van isle is that WCVI chum will be good as will Alberni sockeye. The Stamp/Sproat will have a historical average sockeye return, which is typically 650,000 – with fisheries authorized when 200,000 have returned to the terminal area. Last year is was a phenomenal 2 million, and 1.8 the previous year. So the fish will be there in June if you care to tote your boat over the Alberni summit. The Chilko and Nechako comprise the healthy sections of the Fraser run this year with better sockeye numbers in northern BC. You may have heard that the Cultus lake sockey/cutthroat tested positive for the European strain of ISA, not a good thing.

We don’t typically take boats to the west coast in search of chum, but the Fraser run is expected to be 1,200,000 fish – an average run, but recent returns have been trending up. Thus your chances at the Brown’s Bay chum madness Sept/Oct fishery will have enough fish, if you care to tow just north of Campbell River. If you have never done this one, it is a bucket list item for saltwater trollers. Happily, the fishing is best on a blue sky, high pressure day and you and another 75 boats will be looking for the flood, with lines going off everywhere and a few crossed en route to full boats for everyone.

Inside chum in both Johnstone Strait and Georgia will generally be on target, so terminal, or in-river surpluses may occur. This includes the Cowichan where two years ago there was a commercial harvest of some of the plus 400,000 chum in saltwater.

In the Juan de Fuca and Victoria area, there is no pink fishery as this is an even year, meaning zero for the Fraser. However, Puget Sound has pinks in both even and odd years, so you may catch a few out in the Strait as they cross over from our shores. And most July coho are from the Sound as well.

Generally speaking, climate change and an El Nino, with the ‘Warm Blob’ out in the Pacific keeping waters too warm for highest production and ocean survival, results in depressed numbers. Likely this will be a high year for sockeye diversion down Johnstone Strait rather than Juan de Fuca. The chinook runs for coastal USA will be depressed for similar reasons. You will have heard that low water and competition between fish and farmers in California has made for difficult salmon conditions for spawning, and fry.

Johnstone Strait pink runs are higher in even number years, so fly/gear fishing the beaches from the Campbell to the Quatse is a good bet this year. 2014 was a phenomenal year and 2016 fish are the progeny of 2014. For shore-bound anglers, think the Campbell. It has far out-produced its historical numbers of pinks in recent years since the spawning impediment on the Quinsam was removed. Note also that the river has sections for all gear types, a good reason to show up on its shores.

This is the link to the saltwater fishing Areas of BC:

In our area, 19 and 20, the Fraser chinook comprise the fish we want to catch in June to September. The spring and summer 4-2s and 5-2s are all category 2, and this year the fall 4-1s are also 2 with modest improvements over last year’s number of chinook. However, the summer 4-1s returned 170,000 fish – to give you an idea of the numbers we are talking about.

In our area, we would like to see some hatchery work on the chinook that comprise our summer fishing. That means Fraser River and to a lesser extent, the Cowichan that remains depressed (and do note that there are spring springs in the Cowichan, a tiny 200 fish). A bright spot this summer is the WCVI hatchery chinook (Conuma, Robertson Creek and Nitinat) will be at target; this means a trip to the five Sounds may be on your itinerary for the summer. These fish tend to slop over to Port Renfrew, but not to the Sooke/Victoria area.

As we are not looking at substantial hatchery work for the Fraser’s at this time, the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition’s move toward net pen chinook, may result in better summer fishing in years to come. The purpose is to do our part to help the Killer Whales, and have some fish left over for us. Do pony up your $40 annual membership to help our cause. The net pen would have been in last summer, but egg collection at the Nitinat suffered due to climate, chum timing and the chinook bolting up the river with the first rains.

You land-based anglers can look at some opportunities for all three areas. So consider taking a trip to the hatchery rivers in September. For those inclined further afield, and ka-ching, the Bella Coola and Phillips river chinook look good this summer.

Coho fishing in the CRD will be hohum for Canadian fish. Think hatchery marked fish. Fraser coho are not doing well. And the Georgia coho indicators streams – Black Creek, and Cowichan – do not suggest much on the inside. Let’s hope that the Salish Sea project of the Pacific Salmon Foundation can get to the bottom of this one. You may have noticed that while their seal ‘beanies’ and acoustic smolt tags indicated not much predation on coho, the most recent UBC work has suggested a much higher rate of fry predation by harbour seals.

Coho returns in the north have been good in the last year and that trend looks to repeat this summer.

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