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The chase? A black bear hustles to catch dinner as the salmon scatter in utter terror.
The chase? A black bear hustles to catch dinner as the salmon scatter in utter terror.

B.C. salmon fishery's decade of decline Add to ...

In the early 1990s, about 24 million sockeye a year swam up the Fraser, suggesting the river might return to the 40 million it saw a century ago. It wasn't to be.

1999 - More than eight million sockeye are expected but only three million reach the Fraser, the lowest figure since 1955.

2000 - About five million salmon return but fisherman take nearly half, plus the Weaver Creek and Cultus Lake stocks are nearly wiped out because the fish die before spawning, likely due to overly warm water.

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2001 - Officials worry when fish travel upstream as many as 47 days early, and widespread fishery closures are imposed but not before 1.6 million salmon are taken. The overall run: 7 million.

2002 - More than 15 million sockeye show up (and about four million are caught), but some Fraser runs are veryweak.

2003 - With the Fraser hitting temperatures over 19 degrees, the sockeye delay entering the river. The total run is only 4.8 million with just over 2 million caught.

2004 - Again about four million fish return but only 1.7 million live to spawn, 77 per cent below what biologists feel is needed to rebuild the stocks. Water temperatures set a record, and an abundance of sea lice is noted on young salmon migrating through the Broughton Archipelago.

2005 - With 12 million forecast, the run reaches just seven million sockeye, of which 3.3 million escape to spawn - half of what biologists had hoped for.

2006 - Just over half of the 17 million sockeye forecast show up, but fishing is allowed and the number of spawners is more than a million below target. The Sierra Club reports 38 sockeye runs as endangered, and Stephen Harper writes to the Calgary Herald: "In the coming months, we will strike a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River salmon fishery." Commercial fishers and the Stó:lô Tribal Council object, and the Prime Minister doesn't follow through.

2007 - Broad fishing closures are imposed when only 1.4 million sockeye return to the Fraser.

2008 - Commercial fisheries are closed (after a harvest of 500,000) when estimates show another poor return, just 1.6 million. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature puts Pacific sockeye on its "red list" of threatened species, and scientists report that young fish in the Fraser are being infested with sea lice as they migrate north.

2009 - Between 11 and 13 million fish are expected, but just 1.3 million arrive, the least since 1941.

The agency created by Premier Gordon Campbell in 2004 to examine potential conflicts between wild and farmed salmon runs out of money and closes. Researchers report catching Fraser sockeye near fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago, raising more concerns about sea lice infestation. Mr. Harper presses ahead with his judicial inquiry. "We are very concerned," he says, "about the low and falling returns of sockeye salmon in British Columbia."

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