They’re big, they’re fat and thankfully there are finally a whole lot of ‘em

It’s early, but the Fraser River sockeye salmon run is looking strong for fishermen in U.S. waters.

The season started earlier this week for commercial fishermen, with salmon coming in large numbers through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and heading toward Canadian waters. There are a lot of the fish, and they are fat, said Riley Starks, of Lummi Island Wild. The company does reefnet fishing near Lummi Island. On Monday the crew had its best one-day catch ever, he said.

This year’s run is expected to be large, given that it was huge in 2014 and the peak tends to run in four-year cycles. There was initial concern by the Pacific Salmon Commission about how many fish were returning and how they might fare in the Fraser River. The river is warmer than normal for this time of year, which can make it tougher for the salmon to make it to their spawning grounds, said Mike Lapointe, chief biologist for the commission.

At the start of this run more salmon are heading through the U.S. waters to the river rather than going north around Vancouver Island into Canadian waters. Earlier this week the average diversion rate was 78 percent taking the southern route while 22 percent headed north.

Lapointe said the commission has also observed good fish sizes and above-average fat content. Much of the growth for a salmon happens in the ocean, so this took place despite having to deal with the “warm blob” that took place four years ago. The warm blob was an area of water near Vancouver Island that was warmer than normal and hung around for a couple of years.

Salmon prefer cooler water temperatures, and warm water means poorer-than-average survival rates, Lapointe said. With that in mind, the amount of fish allowed to be caught could be curtailed if water temperatures remain higher than normal in the Fraser River. On Monday the Fraser River was 68.5 degrees Fahrenheit, about four degrees higher than normal for this time of year, according to the commission.

Given the good start to the run, other related industries are hopeful about this year. Bellingham Cold Storage typically adds hundreds of extra workers this time of year to handle fish processing from the commercial fleet. The facility is expected to be very busy within the next two weeks if the run remains strong, said Doug Thomas, president and CEO of BCS.

Starks estimates that Lummi Island Wild will be fishing until the end of August, which is much longer than they’ve been able to fish in the past four years, when run failures have been the norm. Once caught, the fish is available on its website or at Whatcom County stores including Haggen and Whole Foods.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz
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