Sunday, 15 January 2017

Salmon Outlook – 2017

DFO’s Salmon Outlook for this year’s salmon season is out and it looks like an average year with fishing in all areas, though with few outstanding opportunities. 

Here is the year in a nutshell: “Thirty-two (32) Outlook Units are likely to be at or above target abundance (categories 3, 4, 3/4), while 31 are expected to be of some conservation concern (categories 1, 2, 1/2). The remaining 22 Outlook Units have mixed outlook levels (categories 1/3, 1/4, 2/3, 2/4). Overall, the outlook for 2017 has improved relative to the previous outlook (2016). Eleven (11) Outlook Units improved in category (Fraser, Early Summer Sockeye – N Thompson, Fraser Summer Sockeye – Chilko, Nechako, Quesne, Harrison, Raft, Stikine and Taku wild sockeye and Fraser River Summer Run 41 Chinook). Three (3) units declined in category (Somass sockeye, Alsek Chinook, and Fraser odd pink).”

Now, while DFO says 2017 will improve overall compared with 2016, when you look through the document, that improvement depends in part on northern returns that we here on the south coast do not fish. Hence, the average year here. Conditions in the past two years at sea have been affected by the ‘Warm Blob’ and an El Nino, both associated with poorer performance for plankton and thus salmon at sea.

Vancouver Island often starts the season with early sockeye to the Somass system and Henderson Lake in May, with the China Creek area being fishy from June on. The past two year’s returns have been outstanding, 1.8 million, for example. This year is looks like a much lower return, with a sport fishery tentative at this time. Maybe not the year to pull your boat over the hump, but if you can stand the full combat armour of the Paper Mill Dam freshwater sockeye lining fishery, you might as well do that, assuming the number comes in exceeding 200,000, and thus an authorized fishery. It should be noted that Stamp River sockeye keep on coming into September, so there may be some still in saltwater during the Labour Day Port Alberni derby.

For Juan de Fuca/South Van isle sockeye, the Fraser run of some 101 subcomponents has some that are poor, and others that offer opportunity. The issue depends on two things: water temperature and its effect on diverting up to 100% of sockeye down Johnstone Strait if water remains warm; fishing where the strong subcomponents are separated from weak ones, for example, closer to terminal areas, or based on run timing.

Some subcomponents can be less than ten thousand (Sakinaw, at an almost non-existent, 52, for example), while others provide large portions of the overall return. Runs that are average to healthy include: summer Chilko, a run that averages 1.6 million; summer Nechako, 470,000 average; summer Harrison that have vastly exceeded their long-term average of 130,000, often more than double; South Thompson, 200,000; and Fall Birkenhead, 296,000. 

By contrast, the north waters of the Nass, Stikine wild, and Taku wild will be buoyant, so if you are going north, there are some fish way up there, and this is the year to go.

Turning to chinook salmon, the Fraser River fish we depend on in Victoria, those 4-2s and 5-2s, are still in difficulties, so not good for us. On the other hand, WCVI’s three main hatcheries, Conuma, Robertson Creek and Nitinat will return average numbers of fish, but more in the five-year category, meaning fish exceeding 30 pounds. Do remember that Nitinat fish slop over to Port Renfrew and thus the August, September period, when added to the large, white Harrisons is a better than average year to investigate. WCVI wild chinook are in dire need, particularly Clayoquot Sound with less than 501 fish, not surprising for an area with 22 fish farms and IHN, and algal blooms from sewage.

ECVI hatchery rivers will be at target, including Quinsam/Campbell River, and thus a year to row Tyee Pool; the Cowichan at 6,500, with jacks in 2016 suggesting an improvement, which is a welcome sight after a very bad stretch, and possibly some directed fisheries on both outside and inside. This may be a year to treat yourself to a fishing resort trip as the River’s Inlet and Bella Coola chinook are expected at average to above average, and those Wannocks can reach 70 pounds.

As for coho, the Fraser stocks that were in trouble in David Anderson’s day as DFO minister, are still doing poorly. WCVI stocks are stable, and thus add to the catch of anglers migrating to Nootka and Barkley sounds. On the inside, Cowichan and Black Creek coho are improving. If you are on a trip north, Skeena coho are in good shape.

2017 is an odd year, and thus Fraser pinks will be in the Victoria catchment area. They are forecast to be slightly below the long-term average of 13.4 million. So, the easiest to catch salmon will be in high enough numbers to send virtually all anglers home with fish. Those who partake in the beach fisheries for pinks will find stable or improved fishing this summer, from Nanaimo north to Port Hardy, easily a dozen drainages. It is a year to learn to fly fish for those who have not done so in the past.

Finally, there will be some good chum fishing which should exceed its escapement goal of 800,000 for the Fraser. Last year was 2 million at the terminal end, and with the long-term trend having turned positive since 2010, expect more fish rather than fewer. Like last year, this year would be a good one to do the chum madness fishery in Brown’s Bay north of Campbell River. On a blue sky, high pressure warm day in September/October, this fishery can be insane it is that good.

Both Nitinat and Nootka will have good returns of chum, with the added bonus of a higher than usual number of five-year olds. So anglers on foot have a good chance of staggering home with some fish in the 20- to 25-pound range. Johnstone Strait drainages will have above average chum returns and this will add to the Fraser chum in choke point waters north of Campbell River.

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