Salmon inquiry pushes ahead, despite record runs 

The 2010 sockeye salmon run on the Fraser River eclipsed the most optimistic projections, with an estimated 34 million fish this year - almost five times the number forecast by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The result was a bonanza for fisherman, with an estimated 10.5 million fish caught before the fishery closed on Tuesday, Sept. 14 to protect the more endangered Coho salmon run that is now getting underway. Canning operations and smokehouses were at capacity, and the market price of Sockeye salmon dropped more than 70 per cent as a result.

What a difference a year makes - in 2009 just one million Sockeye returned to the Fraser River, about 10 per cent as many as were forecast, which prompted a federal inquiry into the collapse of the fishery.

Sea to Sky MP John Weston requested the inquiry last year, and shortly after the Cohen Commission was formed to investigate the reasons why the 2009 run was a fraction of both the forecast and the average for the river.

Now, on the heels of the biggest run in an estimated 92 years, the question is whether the inquiry would continue as planned.

Pique reached Weston on Monday and was informed that the inquiry would continue - a 3,400 per cent increase from year to year (record low to a near-record high) shows some inconsistency in the Sockeye population and also suggests that our scientific understanding and measurement methods may have a few gaps. The goal, according to Weston, should be to get back to the types of consistent runs that made the Sockeye fishery sustainable for hundreds of years.

"The inquiry will continue, and we hope it will produce some good suggestions for long-term, sustainable fisheries," said Weston.

"I certainly don't believe in being a reactive government, but a long-term management strategy - especially with an invaluable resource like Sockeye - is important. The high returns were great news for sure, but those returns don't detract from the need for longer-term, principles-based management of this resource."

Weston consulted with stakeholders across his riding before calling for an inquiry. He says the consensus then was that the general health of the Sockeye population was declining - even before 2009's disappointing returns.

The Cohen Commission is still underway, and in October the federal fisheries committee will be visiting the riding - pending funding from the federal government.



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