Friday, June 26, 2009

Area 4 Prelim Season Outlook

*** Please note: As 2008 showed forecasts dealing with fish can be very uncertain....more fish might show up......less fish might show up....etc..etc. please take any information or perspectives presented with a large grain of salt...

From the DFO Area Chief's Update #2 we can now see DFO forcecast a return of 2 million for the Skeena sockeye run.

The IFMP (Fishing Plan) calls for a reduced sockeye exploitation rate of 20% which equals 400,000 fish for the commercial fleets. Under an Allocation Policy, the gillnetters get 75% of these, or 300,000, and the seines 25% or 100,000.

How much fishing can we expect for 2009 in Area 4? For comparison with 2008, gillnetters had 12 sockeye openings and caught 490,688 fish. So, for 2009 we could possibly see 6-8 gillnet openings in Area 4 depending upon how many boats participate in the fishery. Their fishery could start around the second week of July.

The Area 4 seine ITQ fishery will run again in 2009 after catching 195,938 sockeye in 2008. In 2008, the seines fished from July 22 to Aug 6, including a 6 day straight opening from July 29 to Aug.3. With a reduced sockeye quota of 'only' 100,000 fish this year the length of the seine ITQ fishery might be reduced. However, there is a good pink return forecast that could offset any sockeye reduction in fishing time for the seiners. And with the seiners fighting any monitoring efforts, compliance issues with selective measures gets called into question potentially effecting steelhead survival.

According to commercial fishery sources, using an 'average' sockeye return of 2 million fish, the commercial catch reduction since 2002 is 40%. Again using the 2 million sockeye run size:
-up to 2002 33% exploitation rate = 660,000 catch
-2003 to 2008 30% expl rate = 600,000 catch
-for 2009 20% expl rate = 400,000 catch
Reducing the sheer number of sockeye they catch is beneficial to steelhead. However, the method of how they catch those remaining fish when they do allow fishing is paramount. Any net savings on paper can easily be wiped out by allowing ten or more gillnet openings during the peak of the early steelhead run.
DFO is using the sockeye exploitation rate as its main tool in addressing the various fish stock conservation concerns. We'll do a follow-up post on this topic as it deserves its own explanation of what the intricacies are.

So, a sockeye catch reduction is generally good news, however the timing and 'shape' of the fishery are also large factors to consider. Plus, if a large run of pinks show up and the seiners get to continue fishing well into August it could be cause for concern with regard to steelhead encounters. Unfortunately for steelhead, the bulk of the gillnet season is again condensed mostly on the early run component. More on this aspect to follow also.

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