Currently, all WLFN fishing spots on the Fraser and Chilcotin are closed (between Deadman and Hixon) and will remain closed until August 17th. While it may appear that there are plenty of salmon in parts of the Fraser, Thompson, and Chilcotin rivers at the moment, certain runs are dangerously low in numbers, so their protection is critical. Many of the salmon passing through WLFN Stewardship lands presently are the endangered Early Stuart and Summer Sockeye runs, which travel far past WLFN territory to spawn.
The Mission Bridge on the Fraser River is used for tracking salmon populations because all fish traveling up the Fraser and Thompson rivers must pass this point at the beginning of their migration. Prior to the beginning of the season, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) projections forecasted a total Sockeye run of 1,564,000 passing the Mission Bridge in the 2023 season. To date, 99,700 or 6.37% of the projected population of Sockeye have passed this point.
Of these, the Early Stuart and Summer Sockeye populations are of note and concern to WLFN and DFO. Both of these species are considered endangered and high-risk. What’s more, these two species were drastically affected by the Big Bar slide in 2019, just north of Lillooet. The DFO pre-season forecast of Early Stuart Sockeye took the slide into account, anticipating a population of 23,000 fish. Encouragingly, the count for Early Stuart at the Mission Bridge is presently sitting at 36,000. While it is hopeful that this figure is larger than anticipated, it follows a steep, downward trend since the 1990s. Climate change, overfishing, and agriculture contribute to this decline. 700,000 Early Stuarts spawned in 1992, compared to just 57,014 in 2018. In 2019, the year of the slide, just 25,900 Early Stuarts passed.
So far this year, a total of 27,348 salmon have been observed upstream of the 2019 Big Bar slide site at Churn Creek. 9,918 Sockeye have migrated past the Churn Creek sonar station, along with 17,430 Chinook.
River water temperatures average 19˚C this summer, which is 1.8 ˚C warmer than the historical average of 17.2 ˚C (between 1991-2020). River discharge is lower than the historical average as well.