Something is fishy with the Skeena River sockeye, and somebody needs to come up with answers.
In a river that is world renowned for its fishery, where guides talk about the millions of sockeye that can be found in the river year in and year out, just over 400,000 sockeye made their way back to the Skeena.
The DFO warned that this could be a bad year for the fishery, estimating between 600,000 and 800,000 sockeye would be returning to the spawning beds. The upper figure, 800,000, is low but not that far off of the 963,000 salmon that were estimated to have returned back in 2010. But only half of that number have found their way back to the northwest after spawning in 2009.
Clearly, it’s not quite the collapse experienced on the Fraser River back in 2009, when only 1.4 million sockeye of an estimated 10 million returned. But when the numbers are so low that recreational fishermen and First Nations are not allowed to retain a single sockeye on the Skeena River for sustenance purposes for the first time in history, there is clearly an issue that needs to be examined.
Is it, as environmental groups contend, overfishing by the Alaskan fleet? Is it an issue of government cutback and habitat deterioration as groups such as the Babine First Nation contend? Is there something else at play that hasn’t been considered?
The sockeye returns have closed the commercial fishery, taking money out of the community, and left First Nations elders without a source of traditional food for the winter. And, as alluded to by Joy Thorkelson of the UFAWU, the low numbers paint a grim picture for the returns four years from now.
While it would be easy to simply put this drop in sockeye stocks down to a natural cycle, that seems fairly simplistic and does a great disservice to those who have had their livelihoods impacted.
The government owes the people more than that.