Chinook returns to the Campbell and Quinsam River systems are healthy enough that, for the first time in memory, an in-river kill fishery has been announced.
“This is an opening that is based on in-river abundance,” said Ed Walls, Watershed Enhancement Manager, Department of Fisheries, Quinsam River Hatchery. “There is evidence to suggest that we might be seeing a very strong return of Chinook to the Quinsam this year, so we have opened this fishery.”
Effective Sept. 20 until 23:59 hours October 31, 2019, the daily limit for Chinook salmon is two per day, of which zero may be over 85 cm in the Campbell River, downstream of the confluence with the Quinsam River.
It is a strange regulation in that Campbell River Chinook are wild and having a hard time with lack of gravel in their natal river in which to spawn. Chinook in the Quinsam River are mostly of hatchery origin.
Having said that, asking fisheries managers for salmon return data for this year in late September is sometimes like asking them to pick the next 649 numbers. Trying to put a lay analysis to it is like choosing the 649 and the winning numbers and the Lotto Max.
So let’s go through the latest news about fisheries around the island. I will quote from the reports of Sept. 27. I will not go into a stream-by-stream analysis for the most part, but will use passages from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s report as much as I can.
For the Strait of Georgia (SOG) there are no formal Chinook forecasts for returns to the Strait of Georgia in 2019. Adult returns, says the report, to most systems in 2018 were near the 4-year and 12-year average escapements.
“Expectations to the Cowichan River are for continued rebuilding and may reach the target escapement for the system (6,500 naturally spawning adults).” Reductions to daily recreational catch quotas in the Strait of Georgia in 2019 may have increased abundance of local stocks, said the report.
SOG 2019 coho expectations are for returns similar to 2018 (below-to-average escapement), but are highly uncertain with wild stocks at low and hatchery stocks at near target.
There is also no formal forecast of SOG pink returns. But chum returns in 2019 are expected to be above target for southeast Vancouver Island. That is tempered with at or below target for mid-Vancouver Island systems and Jervis Inlet.
Mid-Vancouver Island chum expected range is from 178,560 to 267,800, which includes the combination of Puntledge (escapement target 60,000); Qualicum (85,000) and Little Qualicum (85,000); Nanaimo expectation range 67,600 to 101,400 (target 40,000); Cowichan 129,300 to 193,900 (target 160,000); Goldstream 28,000 to 42,100 (target 15,000); Jervis Inlet 42,900 to 64,300 (85,000); Sliammon 14,400 to 9,600; Theodosia 16,300 to 10,900; Okeover 4,800 to 3,200; and Lang 8,600 to 5,800. “These expectations for chum are highly uncertain, and with limited fishery openings expected due to conservation measures, they are conservative estimates,” says the report.
There are also no formal forecasts for Chinook returns to Johnstone Strait and Strait of Georgia North. The report says the overall expectation is low in wild stocks and near target for hatchery stocks. This doesn’t necessarily mean wild stocks data isn’t positive; it’s that some are difficult to monitor.
In 2018 the observed coho return in Area 12 was 66% lower than forecast and the Area 13 return was about 40% higher than forecast. The report says the Area 12 return saw 28% of the 2015 brood return and about 26% of what was estimated for the previous year return (2017). The Area 13 return demonstrated similar abundance relative to the brood year (2014) and 126% improvements over the return from the previous year (2017).
Indicator systems at Keogh and Black Creek, the report says, saw smolt production in 2017 above average (82,000) in the former and well below average (34,000) in the latter. Based on the observed 2018 returns at those and other system in the area, marine survival had declined significantly in Area 12 and improved slightly in Area 13 relative to the 2017 return. This reduction in marine survival in Area 12 was also observed in many of the local pink salmon stocks that out-migrated in 2017 similar to the coho salmon, the report said.
The Area 12 forecast for 2019 is 12% lower than the brood returns in 2016. The Area 13 forecast is 75% higher than the 2016 observed indices. Coho abundance in this region is varied and can be characterized as “well below average” for both Area 12 stocks and for Area 13 stocks. Smolt production in 2018 was average for Keogh River (65,000), and slightly below average for Black Creek (40,000).
The report cautions that these more recent year returns “do not have the high levels of exploitation as in the past and these forecasts are highly uncertain due to the continued decline of contributing index streams further exacerbating the uncertainty in the expectations.”
There is an expected below average return of age four chum because of below average parental brood abundances in 2015 and observations of poor survival for coho and pink from the 2016 ocean entry. However, the report says the strong brood return in 2016 and some evidence of improved survival from ocean entry in 2017 means above average age three returns are likely in 2019.
The report says snorkel surveys on the Salmon River indicate an average to below average expected chinook return based on the 4- and 12-year averages, but early high river flows likely allowed for wide dispersal of fish throughout the system. Campbell River’s Tyee Pool rowboat catches in 2019 were average, which may indicate average returns for the Campbell and Quinsam Rivers. Approximately 5,500 Chinook are estimated holding in the Campbell waiting to go up the Quinsam.
The Gillard Pass Fisheries Association is again conducting an intensive mark-recapture program on Philips River Chinook and have collected brood stock. Adam River Chinook abundance is currently below the 4 and 12 year averages, but will likely fall in line with those averages. Chinook are being observed in a few of the mainland inlet tributary streams as well, with modest improvements over previous years observations.
Coho reports have generally been poor, said the report, with below average marine recreational coho catches and preliminary stream abundance reportings. Early and high stream flows have allowed coho access to many small creeks, allowing them to disperse without being counted in staging areas. Black Creek fence is installed and ready for fish, but water levels are too low for any migrations. Fence operations are set to begin after the next major rain event. Preliminary Quinsam coho counts are low, but it is still early on their run timing.
Area 12 mainland inlet summer chum stock are seeing some improvement over previous years, while area 13 summer chum stocks appear to remain low in abundance. It is too early to begin evaluating fall chum stocks in the area, DFO said.
Pink escapements are highly variable. Escapements to the Quinsam and Campbell Rivers are estimated to be around 550,000 (preliminary), which is an improvement over the 2017 brood year. Approximately 260,000 pinks have been counted past the Quinsam River fence. Surveys in the Broughton area streams have shown low abundance suggesting a more region wide decline in pink returns.
Monitoring for sockeye was in place for Heydon Bay Cree, Quatse River and Nimpkish River. Data review is currently being conducted to evaluate each of these stocks, but won’t be complete until after the escapement season. Sockeye are currently moving into the Clearwater system (Phillips Tributary), so observations are expected on the next inspection.
The target Chinook escapement for the Stamp River system and Robertson Creek hatchery is 39M eggs and an escapement of 21,000 is expected to achieve that target.
The forecast terminal return of adult Stamp/RCH Chinook to Barkley Sound and Alberni Inlet in 2019 is approximately 130,000 (range 97,000 to 165,000). This is about an average return and similar to last year. The predicted adult age composition is 2%, 85% and 13% of 3-, 4- and 5-year old fish, respectively.
Coho escapement targets for the Stamp River system and larger Somass watershed are under review. However, the report points out that since 1997, when marine fishery impacts on mixed coho stocks were greatly reduced, coho escapement through Stamp Falls has averaged about 46,000 annually. Escapement in the most recent 5 years has averaged 22,000 annually. A large portion of these fish are produced from Robertson Creek Hatchery.
West Coast Vancouver Island reports near-target-information-to-forecast coho returns is limited, although the report says there is considerable uncertainty in this assessment. For 2019, most of the return will be coho originating from the 2016 brood year that smolted in 2018 which appeared to be somewhat favourable to rearing salmon. For most WCVI areas, coho spawning populations have been relatively stable, the report said.
There is no formal forecast of pink populations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
The forecast return of Nitinat Hatchery chum is 362,000 (range 132,000 to 592,000). For the other WCVI areas, with the exception the Esperanza and Kyuquot terminal stock management units, the forecast returns of chum are below average and below lower fishery reference points, said the report. The forecast return of Conuma Hatchery (Tlupana Inlet area) chum remains low at 20,000 (range 11,000 to 29,000).
In the Somas, sockeye escapement for both stocks was below average for the 2014 brood year (5-year olds returning in 2019), and especially low in GCL. Escapement for both stocks for the 2015 brood year was one of the biggest on record (4-year-olds returning in 2019).
Conuma Hatchery has completed their Conuma Chinook broodstock collection, though a reduction in fecundity required an increase in the number of brood collected. They expected to get 4,000 eggs per female, but only got roughly 3,700 per female. Spawning is underway in most systems.