Sockeye fishery has Steveston buzzing

Vancouver's Lam Ho caught his share of sockeye salmon during Monday's fishery, and was still busy selling them Tuesday morning at Steveston Landing, along with several other fishermen. Business was brisk as many bought medium and large salmon for $20 and $25 each, while one woman bought salmon roe, which she intended to wash and then serve on steaming white rice.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel photo

Business was brisk at Steveston Landing Tuesday morning as dozens of people came out to buy salmon, which were caught during Monday afternoon's fishery, the first commercial sockeye salmon opening in years.

Sockeye were selling for $20 or $25 each—depending on size—at the half dozen boats open for business.. But that wasn't the only thing up for sale.

One woman bought a bag full of salmon roe, which she explained to a fisherman she was going to bring home, wash, and then serve up raw on a steaming plate of rice.

This is being billed as the best sockeye run since 2010, with some predictions indicating as many as 70 million sockeye could return to the Fraser River this year.

Sockeye for $20

But Bob McKamey, with the Area E Gillnetters Association, said he's not buying those predictions.

"That's unrealistic, from our point of view," he said.

McKamey said the early numbers from Monday were far from stellar.

He described the commercial catches on the the upper part of the Fraser River as "disappointing", with some 100 to 150 fish in each boat.

"The fish just weren't there," he said.

In the lower part of the Fraser, some catches reached 500.

But McKamey caution against reading too much into the numbers.

"It is very premature to be disappointed at all," he said. "In any fishery, there will be windows when just not many fish are in the river, or fish in parts of the river."

Had the numbers been more bountiful from Monday's opening, McKamey said he would have cautioned against being too optimistic.

The last two years have been bleak for salmon fishing, with only one chum opening in each of the past two years, and no sockeye fisheries.

"They have waited a long time for a sockeye fishery. A lot of us are just looking forward to getting a fresh one to the table," McKamey said.

Sockeye sales brisk

McKamey expects some 300 or so commercial gillnetting boats will be on the river from Steveston to Mission for several weeks this summer.

"We're expecting regular weekday openings from now until September," he said.

Limited recreational fisheries for sockeye opened on the Fraser River earlier this month, with catch limits of four per day below the Mission Bridge. Aboriginal ceremonial and food sockeye fishing started two weeks ago.

A limit of two sockeye per day was set earlier this month for the Fraser River upstream of Mission.

—with files from Black Press

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