Warm water temperatures and low water levels are the driving forces behind low salmon numbers, according to Les Jantz at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
But environmentalists assert that contaminants from fish farms and the destruction of fish habitats are also reasons for dwindling stocks of Fraser River sockeye.
Shutting down dozens of fish farms on the sockeye migration route, if found to be risky, was one of the recommendations included in Justice Bruce Cohen's report on the dwindling numbers last fall.
The figures caused the DFO to issue a ban of recreational, commercial and ceremonial salmon fishing from the mouth of the Fraser River around Steveston to north of Hope in mid-August.
"It's been one of the smallest yields on record," said Jantz, the DFO director in B.C. Interior and the co-chair of the Fraser Valley. "Even though the numbers were larger than expected, the mortality rate of the salmon was 17 per cent, which is high. The current water temperature is lethal to salmon."
The turnout didn't come as a complete surprise to local fishermen, considering this was also the spawn of the 2009 sockeye salmon run - an abysmal year.
"I could anticipate that the run wouldn't be as good," said Bob Baziuk, general manager of Steveston Harbour Authority. "The big question is, what will it be like next year? That'll be the spawn of the huge 2010 run."
Although sockeye salmon follow a four-year cycle with one dominant year, such as 2010 or 2014, and one particularly recessive year (2009 or 2013), fishing closures have become more common in recent years, according to Jantz.
"Scientists have been predicting these types of years and closures to be more regular in light of climate change," said Jantz. "But for now, it hasn't been consistent."
Baziuk has seen how the bans have been affecting fishermen in Steveston Village. Future dates for salmon fishing have yet to be announced.
"It affects a fisherman's family, the bills he can't pay, and trickles down to the consumers when there's no public sales of salmon," he said. "We're just holding our breaths here, hoping our good boys and girls can get a kick at the can to make their livelihood."
Jantz couldn't speak to ways to help the problem, despite scientists predicting lower salmon returns becoming more common in future years.
"We don't have control of the weather patterns," he said. "All we can do is try to respond and manage it in an appropriate way."
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