While 2013 should have been the dominant year for sockeye salmon returning to the Quesnel system, a larger anticipated return has not materialized, said Fisheries and Oceans Canada this week.
“The whole Quesnel system is cyclical and 2013 would normally have been the dominant year,” said Les Jantz, DFO’s interior chief of resource management.
Nevertheless, numbers of Sockeye returning to the Horsefly River are more positive than were anticipated earlier in the season, he added.
“At this point we are seeing some fairly good numbers of fish in the Quesnel system, considering the fact we were seeing very low numbers in our assessment programs in-season.”
Because of the warmer water temperatures the fish were exposed to, DFO management models had predicted upwards of 70 per cent en-route mortality, he explained.
The last weekly visual assessment, which came out in an escapement report on Sept. 15, estimated a 25,000 live count, plus an additional 2,800 dead, which are fish that have already spawned and died, Jantz said.
Visuals assessments have been conducted weekly during the last month and a half.
In 2010, the Quesnel system had a return 600,000 fish and a spawning estimate of 250,000 and it was a sub-dominant year.
“Since the early 2000s when we saw some reduced returns, in particular to the Quesnel, and Fraser Sockeye in general, there has been some indication that the cyclical pattern in the Quesnel system may be changing,” Jantz said. “We don’t know yet. Sometimes transitions happen, sometimes they don’t.”
Normally DFO would have a fairly intense hydro acoustic program in place to count fish, but because of the very low abundance observed in-season in the marine river test fisheries, the program was changed to basic visual surveys.
Now surveys are being done by crews floating down the river in boats or flying the system to count the fish.