Note: this is an excerpt from an update notice distributed out by DFO
The Fraser River Panel met Tuesday, July 10, to receive an update on the migration of the Fraser sockeye runs to date and review the status of migration conditions in the Fraser River watershed.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) provided forecasts of the 2018 Fraser River sockeye salmon abundance, timing and diversion rate to the Fraser Panel prior to the season. The majority of sockeye returning in 2018 will be recruits from adult spawners in 2013 and 2014 with the latter being the Adams River dominant cycle line. DFO has advised that Fraser River sockeye salmon forecasts for 2018 continue to be highly uncertain due to variability in annual survival rates anduncertainty about changes in their productivity as a result of the warm blob from 2013 to 2016 and the subsequent El Nino at the end of 2016 into early 2017.
To put the sockeye run size forecast uncertainty into context, there is a one in four chance that the actual number of returning sockeye will be at or below 8,423,000 fish (the 25% probability level forecast) and there is a one in four chance that the actual number of returning sockeye will be at or above 22,937,000 fish (the 75% probability level forecast). For pre-season planning purposes, the Fraser Panel used the 50% probability level forecast (equal
chance of a higher or lower return) of 13,981,000 fish for all management groups. This is similar to the cycle average of 13.7 million. The largest contributing stocks for the 2018 return are expected to be the Late Shuswap, Chilko, Quesnel, and Early Shuswap.
For 2018 pre-season planning purposes the Early Stuart and Chilko forecast timing of July 2 and August 11 respectively were adopted by the Fraser Panel at the June meeting in Suquamish, Washington. Timing for all other sockeye stocks is based on historical correlations with the Early Stuart and Chilko timings mentioned above. The pre-season forecast of the proportion of Fraser River sockeye salmon diverting their migration through Johnstone Strait is 56%.
Given the recent high diversion rates on this cycle line through Johnstone Strait the Panel chose to adopt the 1990-2017 median diversion rate of 63% for planning purposes.
The snow pack volume in the Fraser River watershed was well above average in March and April of this year, however a warmer than normal spring resulted in early snowmelt throughout the Fraser watershed resulting in well below average snowpack by June. As such it is anticipated that water levels will be well below average during the sockeye migration period. This combined with above average forecast for air temperatures has resulted in a prediction of water temperatures that will be above the historic mean for July and August. Actual water temperatures and discharge levels will be monitored closely during the 2018 return to determine if migration issues are developing.
For pre-season planning purposes the Fraser Panel has adopted management adjustments for Early Stuart based on the historical median for all years, Early Summer based on the historical median for dominant years only (2018 cycle) and Summer run sockeye based on the historical median for all years. Model predicted management adjustments based on the water discharge and temperature predictions were not adopted largely due to the high degree of uncertainty in the forecasts. Management adjustments are additional fish that are removed from identified harvest levels and allowed to escape upstream in an attempt to assist in achievement of identified escapement objectives for the different run timing groups. In-season information over the coming weeks will help to inform future decisions on management adjustments for the Early Summer, Summer and Late run management groups while the Early Stuart management group will be managed based on the respective Low Abundance Exploitation Rate (LAER) of 10%. There will be no in-season estimates of management adjustment for Early Stuart in 2018 unless the run size is considerably larger than the median forecast and generates TAC. It is anticipated they will be managed to the LAER, with the expected outcome of a spawning escapement being below goal.
Gill net test fishing began in the Fraser River on June 22 at Whonnock and July 2 at Qualark Creek. The Area 20 gill net test fishery began today (July 10) while Round Island and Cottonwood gill net test fisheries are planned to begin on July 12th. During the first 10 days at Whonnock no sockeye were caught however since July 2 sockeye catches have increased significantly with early stock identification analyses indicating the majority of the sockeye being
Early Stuart and Chilliwack sockeye. In-season assessment of Early Stuart sockeye will be provided later in July once more information becomes available. In-season assessment of all run timing groups generally occurs shortly after identification of their peak migration through marine areas.
Currently, First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) sockeye fisheries have been restricted by the 3 week Early Stuart window closure with limited fishing opportunities in the Fraser River directed at Chinook salmon. The start-up of sockeye directed FSC fisheries is not anticipated before mid to late July depending upon location and will be based on the identification of sockeye TAC for Early Summer or Summer run 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 to begin until the end of July or early August once commercial TAC has been identified.