Salmon Watersheds Program

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Report of the Fraser River Panel to the Pacific Salmon Commission on the 2019 Fraser River Sockeye and Pink Salmon Fishing Season

The 2019 season saw a record low number of
sockeye return to the Fraser River. The final in-season run size estimate of 571,000 sockeye was 88% less than the median forecast (4,795,000) and 86% below the cycle line average. While lower survival rates similar to previous years were expected, there is no clear explanation why survival rates turned out to be the lowest on record. This very low run size was further impacted by the Big Bar landslide that was discovered at the start of the season on June 23, 2019. The landslide impacted the stocks with spawning grounds above Big Bar which amounted to 81% of the total Fraser sockeye run. The landslide created a physical barrier that impeded upstream migration, especially early in the season when water discharge levels were too high to allow natural migration past the slide. The overall low run size in combination with the Big Bar migration challenges resulted in the smallest spawning escapement in the Fraser River since 1943.

Unlike the sockeye return, the Fraser River pink salmon return in 2019 was 76% above the median forecast (5,018,600). The impact of the slide on pink salmon was much smaller than for sockeye given the low proportion of pinks that traditionally spawn above Big Bar, the lack of stream fidelity and the later timing of the pink salmon run when discharge levels were lower. This report describes the planning of the 2019 season and the Panel management actions, including those taken in response to the low sockeye salmon run size and the Big Bar landslide.