The media loves a bad news story. All summer and fall, you probably saw headlines like “‘Grim’ Fraser River salmon runs even worse than forecast” and “Low B.C. salmon stocks prompt consumer warning.” With headlines like this, it’s easy to start to wonder if we should even be eating BC salmon. There’s no doubt that there are some serious conservation issues to be addressed here and attention needs to be paid to the causes of the decline of salmon in some areas.
But the reality is that BC has a large coast and many salmon runs are doing better than they have in years! In fact, right now, one of the largest chum salmon returns in recorded BC history is taking place and most people know nothing about it. As a member of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery, you know your fisherman, know the exact run, gear method, and month your fish was caught – assurance that the salmon you are eating comes from bountiful, stable runs and that the fishermen who caught your fish were paid a fair-trade price. And while the Fraser River sockeye run is in serious trouble, we should take comfort knowing that the Fraser River is teeming with salmon right now, returning precious nutrients up the river, feeding bears, eagles, and the entire ecosystem. And, if we educate ourselves and broaden our diets to include what is bountiful in a given year, then we, too, can enjoy a bounty of wild, sustainable, fair-trade, BC salmon for generations to come.
So, let’s take a moment to look at 5 salmon runs in BC that were really strong in 2016!
- Smith Inlet Sockeye Salmon, on BC’s central Coast, north of Port Hardy near Calvert Island.
Salmon spawning up Smith Inlet pass through the Docee River Counting Fence. Precise records have been kept since 1972, so we know the exact numbers in that run over the past 44 years. The numbers have fluctuated wildly and, for the past couple of decades, there were no commercial fisheries on Smith Inlet sockeye salmon as the numbers were so low. This year 188,464 sockeye salmon passed that fence, the highest number in 23 years! The fishery went terminal (meaning that the maximum number of spawners filled the spawning beds and any subsequent spawners would just be digging up the eggs of other salmon and not increasing the spawn size). As a result, weeks of successful fisheries took place in late summer.
- Barkley Sound Sockeye Salmon, on the west coast of Vancouver Island between Bamfield and Ucluelet.
For a 3rd year in a row, sockeye salmon returning to Barkley Sound to spawn up the Somass River returned in numbers higher than expected. Commercial, aboriginal, and recreational fisheries went on well into July on this abundant run.
- Nitnat Chum Salmon, on the west coast of Vancouver Island between Bamfield and Port Renfrew.
The Nitnat hatchery has operated on Vancouver Island’s west coast since it was built in 1980 “to help sustain salmon populations for local commercial, recreational and Ditidaht First Nations fisheries.” This October, chum salmon returning to that hatchery came back in very strong numbers. What was expected to be a very limited fishery was expanded to a full fleet opening when numbers of these chum salmon showed up higher than expected.
- Nootka Sound Chum Salmon, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, north of Tofino.
Chum salmon returns in Nootka Sound have been returning in numbers much higher than expected this year. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had only planned to permit a limited fleet to fish these runs, selected by random draw. However, since the numbers have been so much higher than expected, the DFO has opened fishing to the entire fleet. Fishing there continues to be strong at the time of writing.
- Johnstone Strait/ Fraser River Chum Salmon, between Vancouver Island and mainland BC, between Campbell River and Port McNeill.
Although Fraser River sockeye numbers have hit a record low, other salmon species returning to the Fraser are doing extremely well. Commercial, aboriginal, and recreational fisheries targeting these runs in the Johnstone Strait and near the Fraser River are fishing the strongest returns in many years. On October 17th, the largest catch ever recorded in a Johnstone Strait chum salmon fishery took place. The seine fleet pulled in 800,000 fish in one day! In the last week of October, one of our fishermen nearly sunk his net, it was so full of huge, beautiful chum salmon! At the time of writing, this and many other chum fisheries have gone terminal and are open for fishing until further notice.
Salmon lovers should remember that there are 5 species of salmon on our coast and that sometimes we need to shift our eating habits to reflect what is bountiful in any given year. Want to know more about the 5 species and how best to prepare them? Read the fascinating results of our blind, side-by-side taste test of the 5 species of salmon. And if you want to enjoy the bounty of chum salmon there year, try out Chef Ned Bell’s famous chum salmon salad recipe, fisherman/Chef Jack Kines’s famous chum salmon burger recipe, or one of these salmon recipes submitted by our members! Members of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery receive updates all season long about what salmon are abundant and sustainable. When your supply chain is fully transparent, you can feel confident that you are eating with the ecosystem and supporting fishing families who are making the effort to do things right instead of allowing uncertainty and fear to drive you from your healthy seafood diet.