Millions of pink salmon are expected to return to the Fraser River this year, but the Watershed Watch Salmon Society fears commercial fishing will weed out its much less abundant cousins - the sockeye and coho.
Craig Orr, executive director of the WWSS, said low salmon stock reports from Cultus and Quesnel lakes combined with poor fishing methods could lead to a disaster if fishers aren't careful. "When the commercial fishermen fish, they're fishing fairly non-selectively and they're catching a number of sockeye from stocks that are in trouble," Orr said.
The issue is an estimated 26 million pink salmon are coming back to the Fraser River that are fair game, but there's a good chance for collateral damage in the catch, according to Orr.
"They have to be cautious and carefully release sockeye and coho, but I don't think they're doing a lot of damage with the number of pinks that they're catching," he said.
In August the Pacific Salmon Commission lowered its forecast for the Fraser River's main summer sockeye run to two million from a preseason forecast of 3.7 million. The key summer runs represents roughly 80 per cent of all sockeye return.
"A lot of these are the progeny of the disastrous 2009 return that triggered the Cohen inquiry," Orr said.
In 2009 a massively lacking return of Fraser River sockeye coined a $26-million inquiry from the federal government called the Cohen Commission to find out why.
After 18 months of testimony, the Cohen Commission put forward 75 recommendations in 2012, but only a few have been implemented.
"We'd like to see them get on with the recommendations," Orr said. "Let's put wild salmon first. But it seems we're still seeing a government that is more interested in promoting farm salmon than it is in protecting wild salmon."
Fisheries and Oceans Canada told the Tri-Cities NOW in August it is still examining the Cohen Commission and does not know when it will respond to the recommendations.
"The Government of Canada has long recognized the importance of protecting sockeye salmon in the Fraser River," said Frank Stanek of Fisheries and Oceans Canada last month. "This is why the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River was called."
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