Treaty tribes in western Washington are having a bountiful Fraser River sockeye fishery this season, with at least three times the number of fish returning as expected. More than 30 million sockeye are estimated to return to the Fraser River in British Columbia this year – the highest run size recorded since 1913.

View photos of the fishery in the San Juan Islands on NWIFC’s Flickr feed.

Nine treaty tribes in western Washington have treaty-reserved rights to catch Fraser River sockeye in U.S. waters before they migrate upstream. The Fraser River sockeye treaty tribes are Lummi, Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Nooksack, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Suquamish, Swinomish and Tulalip.

Sockeye salmon is a source of food and income for tribal members and it also helps meet cultural needs. The tribes freeze the fish to be used throughout the year at celebrations, ceremonies and funerals.

“It’s wonderful to finally have a sockeye harvest again,” said Lorraine Loomis, Swinomish fisheries manager and tribal representative to the Pacific Salmon Commission, which manages the Fraser sockeye run for the United States and Canada. “This fishery helps our fishermen and feeds our tribal communities that have had to go without sockeye for too long.”

This year’s enormous returns follow several years of disappointment. In November 2008, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared the Fraser fishery a disaster because of drastic declines in returns over the past several years. The Fraser sockeye tribes and state commercial fishermen were allocated $2 million to compensate for the loss of income.

Lummi Chairman Henry Cagey said at the time that it would take at least $5 million to compensate the tribe’s more than 600 fishermen.

Last year, about 10 million Fraser sockeye were forecast to return, but only about 1 million came back, canceling treaty and non-tribal fisheries in both the United States and Canada.

For more information, contact: Kari Neumeyer, NWIFC information officer, 360-424-8226 or kneumeyer@nwifc.org.