“What Happened to the Alberni sockeye?”
A few people have been speculating as to what happened with the sockeye run into Port Alberni this 2019 season. Many theories abound, but one thing is clear—the run did not materialize as many had hoped. The likely cause is out-migrating sockeye smolts encountered poor ocean conditions brought about by the warm “blob.” Fishery managers had hoped for better survival and returns; in fact, the preliminary run forecast was initially thought to be 350,000 to 500,000.
Recently test fishing results and in-river actual counts have resulted in the run forecast being downgraded to 200,000. With this run size assessment, all fisheries will close. The Recreational fishery closes midnight on July 14. The current escapement into the river has been 26,679 fish to the Stamp River, and 66,498 fish to the Sprout River.
Thus far catch to date has been:
- Somass First Nations = 52,965
- Maa-Nulth First Nations = 12,792
- Area D Gillnet = 6,500
- Area B Seine = 0
- Recreational = 2,577
- Test Fishery = 3,326
Given the very low returns of sockeye, the right thing to do is to close all fisheries—the run simply did not materialize as we all had hoped. Unfortunately, early migration and catch numbers showed favourable results giving a misleading impression of the actual run strength. Now that we have more data and fish counter observations, it is clear that the run is in trouble. Bold measures are necessary to address fisheries to enable all available spawning recruits to pass through onto the spawning grounds.
The Area 23 Harvest Round Table manages the Port Alberni fishery by engaging all stakeholders in a joint process to evaluate fishery data and reach fishery management decisions together. Each stakeholder group is represented at the table, and contributes to making decisions based upon best available data during the weekly in-season meetings. The decision to close all fisheries for sockeye jointly reached by the Area 23 Harvest Round Table wasn’t easy, but it is the right thing to do under the circumstances.