First Nations netting fewer salmon at Kamloops Lake

Fisheries catching more than 100 chinook salmon a day, releasing sockeye

An inland fishery underway on Kamloops Lake is snagging whopping South Thompson chinook that would make a sport angler jealous.

Secwepemc Fisheries Commission purchased two boats this year as part of its long-term commitment to the inland fishery. Five gillnets, marked with buoys and lights, are set between Savona and upstream toward Tobiano.

Don Ignace, fisheries manager for Skeetchestn Indian Band, said Tuesday more than 100 chinook a day are being hauled aboard the 8.5-metre fishing boat and associated packing vessel. They are based out of a temporary dock beside Aspen Planers' sawmill at Savona.

"We've got up to 170 a day," Ignace said, adding a typical day sees between 130 and 150 chinook caught with gillnets.

Fishers working Tuesday were pulling 35- to 50-pound chinooks, also known as spring salmon, from Kamloops Lake.

Numbers of salmon hauled in this year pale in comparison to last year, when the commission was permitted by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to catch 22,000 sockeye using purse-seine nets, along with 4,000 chinook.

Les Jantz, DFO's B.C. Interior chief for resource management, said abundance both for chinook and sockeye is down. In 2010, there were 10 million sockeye that returned to the Adams River, the largest run in history. This year is an off-cycle year on the Adams, with just a few thousand sockeye expected to spawn.

Jantz said fishermen working for the commission are limited to 500 "encounters," which means bycatch of other species. They must release sockeye.

"They're as much concerned about conserving sockeye stocks as we are," Jantz said, adding risk of catching sockeye now is low.

Ignace said nets have picked up less than six sockeye thus far. Nets have eight-inch spacing, designed to snare larger chinook but let sockeye pass.

He doesn't expect crews will reach the 2,100-chinook limit set by DFO.

"The way it's looking we have to be out by the 22 nd(of September) because coho are showing up in abundance and we don't want to catch those."

Thompson coho stocks are considered at risk.

Unlike in some previous years, the commission won't make fresh salmon from the fishery available for sale here. A buyer dockside at the lake trucks salmon on ice directly to North Delta Seafoods.

"They were impressed at the quality and fish colour," Ignace said. "They figure it will be easy to fillet and steak up."

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