Low Sockeye returns mean less money will be coming into the community this year

North Coast fishing season projected to be one of the worst yet

It might have been a first for Prince Rupert council chambers.

It might have been a first for Prince Rupert council chambers.

The 1984 comedic film ‘Ghostbusters’ was referenced by Coun. Joy Thorkelson at the last council meeting in July, but the councillor’s message was anything but funny.

“[The ocean has] had a growth of algae that’s created a slime. If anyone has seen ‘Ghostbusters’, they’ll know ectoplasm. That’s what the slime is like – ectoplasm,” said the councillor.

Area fishermen face the dire reality of a much lower-than-expected return on Skeena River sockeye salmon, a trend that is seemingly affecting all areas of B.C. due to the slime and warmer than usual temperatures on the North Coast.

“It’s too bad because this was predicted to be the best year since 2001. [The United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAW)] were predicting to have a 3.5 million [run] return on the Skeena. Right now, it looks like we’ll have less than a million,” said Thorkelson, who is also a representative of the UFAW.

Not only is the run much lower than expected, sitting at approximately 855,000, but the sockeye have been much smaller than in previous years, with the average fish weighing in at five pounds.

“Multiply that by $1.75 per pound in sockeye and that’s how much [North Coast] fishermen have made this year. It used to be $3.00 per pound … Very few people in the cannery are going to have enough hours to get unemployment insurance, which is going to create a bigger crunch on housing because people are going to have to rely on welfare and welfare will claw back all of the money they’ve earned this summer, which won’t be very much,” Thorkelson added.

Along with the low return of Skeena sockeye, the Nass was expected to produce a run of 700,000, but it’s now looking like the return will be 200,000, said Thorkelson.

The situation hasn’t been catastrophic enough to warrant the potential closure of the Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) Fishery this year, but the Skeena Fisheries Commission is informing all FSC fishermen from the Gitksan, Gitanyow, Wet’suwet’en, Lake Babine and Lax Kw’alaams Bands that if the run continues to be downgraded in-season, “it may be necessary to consider restrictions to limit Skeena sockeye catch for conservation reasons,” read a release from the commission.

“Currently there are no restrictions on First Nations FSC fishing in the Skeena River. Recreational fishers can only take one Skeena sockeye per day and no commercial fishing for Skeena sockeye is anticipated for this year, including inland fishing,” the July 23 release stated, adding no commercial fishing is allowed until the run reaches the 1.05 million threshold.

“We still have faint hope, but hope is becoming fainter. Pink salmon haven’t shown up. The first day of canning was on July 9, which is the latest canning in my whole career,” said Thorkelson.

Record ocean temperatures are a full three degrees higher than normal, scientists have said, and have caused a toxic algae bloom. A large warm blob of ocean water has moved into northwest B.C. waters, causing warm water predators to move farther north. The warm water also kills off some of the nutritious food that salmon usually eat, which explain why they may show up smaller and thinner than usual.

“Ocean conditions are changing and I guess the sooner we all realize that we have to reduce our carbon footprint, [the better],” Thorkelson said.

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