08/01/2014 03:11 EDT | Updated 10/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Fraser River sockeye salmon estimates to be updated

Commercial, recreational and First Nations fishers should get a better estimate of the size of the sockeye salmon run on the Fraser River this year today when Fisheries and Oceans Canada releases its latest numbers.

The Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser River Panel had been forecasting an abundant return of about 23 million sockeye salmon to the Fraser River this year.

However, last Friday it said in a news release that early returns had so far been "less than anticipated" for the gillnet fishery off the east coast of Vancouver Island.  Returns to the lower Fraser River were described as "modest."

Water temperatures on the Fraser River have also been climbing. On July 28 the temperature of the water was estimated at 17.8 deg. C, but was forecast to go as high as 20.5 deg. C. 

Sustained water temperatures in this range can cause severe stress to migrating sockeye and could lead to severe en-route mortality, said Fisheries and Oceans in its latest assessment.

Fisheries and Oceans as of last week had only confirmed a return of about 300,000 sockeye to the Fraser River, but that estimate only involved early Stuart River and early summer-run sockeye.

Estimates for the majority of returning sockeye coming as the mid-summer run have not yet been provided. Test gillnet and purse seine fisheries will provide more reliable numbers on these later runs.

Caution warranted

Officials have good reasons to be cautious when estimating sockeye salmon run sizes in B.C..

In 2009, Fisheries and Oceans Canada predicted a huge return of 10 million fish to the Fraser River. When only a million showed up, the apparent collapse of that fishery prompted a $26 million federal inquiry.

In 1995 the returns in the area were so low there were fears the fishery was collapsing.

The sockeye salmon season begins in mid-July and lasts until mid-September with the bulk of the run beginning to arrive in B.C.rivers in early August.