When organizers decided a few weeks ago to cancel 2016’s annual Horsefly River Salmon Festival they knew the sockeye run was going to be the lowest return in the four-year cycle.
Now it looks like the run will be phenomenally low, said Maureen LeBourdais, chair of the Horsefly River Roundtable.
“They are talking about 35,000 fish for the Horsefly, which even historically in a low year should be over 100,000,” she told the Tribune Wednesday.
With funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Mount Polley Mine and other corporate donations, the roundtable has done restoration work in the upper Horsefly, its tributaries and riparian areas.
“The fish come up and there’s lots of room for them to spawn,” LeBourdais said. “They have successful spawns. They go to Quesnel Lake and spend a year and then go out to the ocean and they don’t come back.”
The river is not the problem, she added.
During the last decade the sockeye have arrived later and later in the Horsefly River, she said.
They used to come in August, and by mid-August to the beginning of September the run would peak.
As a result, the salmon festival was held on the Labour Day weekend, but when the salmon showed up later even, they changed to holding it on B.C. Rivers Day — the last Sunday in September.
Sockeye in the Horsefly River are something the community took for granted in September and residents brought their company to see them coming up the river.
“The river would be red with fish.”
When she was a manager with the regional office of the Fraser Basin Council, LeBourdais attended meetings to hear Justice Bruce Cohen discuss the recommendations of the Cohen Commission Report after it was submitted in November 2012.
Everyone wants to point fingers at the cause of the fishery collapse, but the Horsefly River Roundtable believes that everyone need to look at themselves, LeBourdais said.
“It’s a combination of stressors, and maybe one or two more stressors put us over the top.”
Even with declining numbers of salmon, the festival has always been a good opportunity for sharing information with the public about them.
Chuckling LeBourdais agreed when the festival returns hopefully next year, it might have to be renamed “Where Are the Salmon Festival?”