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It’s a waiting game for this year’s Fraser River salmon run

Reef net fishers haul in sockeye salmon off the coast of Lummi Island in this Aug. 22, 2014 file photo. Local fishers in U.S. waters are waiting to see if they will get a chance to fish for pink salmon next month. So far, the salmon run has yielded low numbers, putting the season in jeopardy.
Reef net fishers haul in sockeye salmon off the coast of Lummi Island in this Aug. 22, 2014 file photo. Local fishers in U.S. waters are waiting to see if they will get a chance to fish for pink salmon next month. So far, the salmon run has yielded low numbers, putting the season in jeopardy. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

For this year’s Fraser River sockeye salmon run, the commercial boats hoping to fish in local waters are stuck in a wait-and-see scenario.

With run numbers remaining low, the Pacific Salmon Commission’s Fraser River Panel has kept the fishing season closed in both the U.S. and Canadian waters near the mouth of the Canadian River. It’s unclear at this point whether the run is just late or will be much weaker than expected, said Pete Granger, a local reef net fisherman.

Forecasts earlier this year predicted a smaller run for sockeye salmon. Even at that level, it would mean only about three days of fishing for the U.S. fleet, Granger said.

It is also the season for the pink salmon run, which usually happens in late August or early September. The pink salmon run happens in odd-numbered years and 2015 was terrible, particularly in U.S. waters as the fish were mostly diverted north around the top of Vancouver Island into Canadian waters. It is unclear at this point what the strength of that run will be, Granger said.

A key factor for the strong northern diversion in that year appears to be because of “the blob,” an area of warmer-than-normal water parked just west of Vancouver Island. The blob is not around this year and some of the few fish that are making the run are going through the Strait of Juan de Fuca into the waters around Lummi Island, Granger said.

Mike Lapointe, chief biologist for the Pacific Salmon Commission, said it has been an abysmal start to the run, but there has been a slight uptick in recent days. A clearer picture should emerge for the panel in the next two weeks.

Much of the Bellingham fishing fleet is up in Alaska, which appears to be enjoying a record-breaking sockeye salmon season, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. With a strong season taking place in Alaska, much of the fleet may end up staying there longer, given the uncertain prospects for fish in local waters this year.

Clarification: This story was updated on July 31 to reflect that the current concern is about the low sockeye salmon run, not the pink salmon run.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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