After months of uncertainty, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has announced a two-day commercial gill net fishery for Skeena Sockeye salmon, opening Thursday this week.
“I wanted to provide a quick update,” a DFO official wrote in an email this week to UFAWU-Unifor Fishermen, which was shared on the union’s Facebook page. “This weekend saw continued strong escapements estimated at Tyee (~200,000 over the weekend). After discussions with our Stock Assessment colleagues this morning, it would appear that the Skeena Sockeye run is late (although how late is still to be determined).”
Given current trends, the DFO has decided to move forward with a selective fishery opening on Thursday August 6th and Friday August 7th, 06:00 to 22:00 hours on both days. “As we are now in August, this opening will be conducted with short net/short set provisions in place,” the email reads.
This is welcome news to Skeena locals. “It’s great to see the return strengthening to the point where our local communities can harvest some sockeye,” said Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild. “Hopefully the return will continue to build over the coming days as we are still well below the long-term average.”
An official notice posted to the DFO website contains further details. “Maximum net length will be 100 fathoms, or 187.5 meters. It will not be acceptable to have a regular length net on your drum and only set half. It will also not be acceptable to have both halves of the net on your drum. Only one (half-length) net will be allowed on your drum or in the water,” it reads.
There is also a limited soak time: “The maximum amount of time the net is allowed to be in the water from the time it is completely set to the time it begins to be retrieved is 20 minutes. Note that this ‘soak time’ is designed to equal a 40 minute time from when the first portion of the net enters the water to when the last portion of the net leaves the water. Times will be monitored on the grounds.”
Gill net fishers are prohibited from retaining Coho, Chum, Chinook and Steelhead. These should be released “to the water with the least possible harm,” the DFO states. “Operating revival boxes are mandatory and may be used to revive fish prior to release.”
Following these rules will be critical to future openings. “Extensions and further fishing days will be directly dependant on compliance to the above restrictions,” the DFO writes.
There are still some worrying signs for Sockeye though. “We are at only about half the long-term average,” Knox said. “The Skeena normally sees about 2 to 2 ½ million Sockeye, but in recent years the returns have been low. The current estimate from DFO is just over a million return.”