Record returns on Fraser River’s MSC salmon

25 Aug 2010

Fraser River sockeye salmon returns could reach between 20 million and 25 million fish this year, making it the second, possibly even the largest run in 60 years, according to independent fisherman and Pacific Salmon Commission Fraser Panel member Mike Griswold.

"This vindicates our long quest to obtain Marine Stewardship Council certification that Fraser sockeye is well managed. We are thrilled."

Last year, Fraser sockeye failed to return in the numbers expected, prompting Fisheries and Oceans Canada to close the fishery amid claims that it was commercially extinct. "2010 has proved that when environmental conditions are good, Fraser sockeye is enormously resilient. Management remains extremely cautious with harvest rates at less than half the levels of the recent past in order to rebuild weak populations," said Griswold.

UBC fisheries scientist Carl Walters said that the problem last year was extremely poor marine survival of the fish in 2007 when they went to sea.

"Very low numbers of fish made it through the Georgia Strait, and those that did had very poor growth. And there were several species that had the same poor growth pattern. So we think it was just a one-off bottleneck in the survival during their life in the ocean."

Walters added that returning sockeye could be harvested at much higher harvest rates than DFO has allowed over the last 15 years, including this year, without detriment to long-term productivity.

According to Griswold, MSC certification has helped keep prices to the fishermen fairly high because of international demand for sustainable seafood products. "MSC certification has meant more than $10 million (€7.9 million) to us by letting us market our fish to high value niches domestically and internationally."

As harvests increase, Griswold said prices would fall, making the fish a good buy for consumers. Chef Robert Clark of the Vancouver seafood restaurant ‘C’ said the fish currently harvested en route to the Fraser were "outstanding, just the right amount of fat and oil content, making it the best sockeye I have ever seen".

Christina Burridge of the Canadian Pacific Sustainable Fisheries Society added that MSC certification was “the best means to ensure that management responds to environmental conditions so that we have more record runs in the future”.

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