Low sockeye numbers shut down First Nations food fishery, recreational fishery

The First Nations food fishery and the recreational fishery are the latest victim of the low Skeena River sockeye returns.

Mel Kotyk, North Coast area director with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, confirmed that First Nations food fishery was closed as of midnight Monday until Aug. 23 for an area covering the marine water right up to the Babine fence. For the recreational sockeye fishery, the closure extends from the pacific to the Skeena River, its tributaries and right through to the Babine River and Babine Lake.

The reason for the closure is due to the extremely low number of salmon returning to the system. The DFO estimates that only 408,000 fish have returned, well below initial estimates of between 600,000 and 800,000. Kotyk said this is the first time these steps have been implemented on the river.

"There have been food restrictions on the Fraser River and in some other localized circumstances, however ... to the best of my knowledge has never been implemented for the Skeena River," he said.

The closure of the recreational sockeye fishery will be felt on the pocketbooks of charter operators in the region, but Stan Doll with Skeena Wilderness Adventures, a charter company that runs on the Skeena, said the low numbers make the closure understandable.

"We like fishing them, they put up a good fight and are a good tasting fish, and we don't have that much of an impact on the numbers, but if they're going to close every other fishery, then it is fair that they close us down too. We understand, we want a strong fishery," he said, adding that the lack of sockeye is evident to those on the river.

"Normally you see them jumping and flipping everywhere. We're just not seeing them on the Skeena this year."

Calls to Metlakatla Chief Harold Leighton and Lax Kw'alaams Chief Garry Reece for comment were not immediately returned.

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