Fish frenzy turns fatal

B.C.’s sockeye salmon frenzy

Photograph by Paul J. Henderson

In late August, sport fisherman Randy Garrecht, caught up in B.C.’s sockeye salmon frenzy, slipped on the rocks of the mighty Fraser River and was washed away. The 33-year-old was the first fatality related to the salmon rush that has seen some 30 million sockeye arrive in the greatest run since 1913—after decades of decline and near depletion. Euphoria around the coveted salmon has proved to be a boon for some, and dangerous for others. Peter Giesbrecht, a recreational fisher in Chilliwack, B.C., says, “I’ve seen at least seven guys fall into the river and nearly drown.” The shore where he fishes has become “a zoo,” he adds. “Some guys push further into the water because there’s no room. They take a risk.”

Cpl. Lea-Anne Dunlop, a communications officer for the Upper Fraser Valley RCMP, says, “We’re hearing that there have been a number of near drownings. Other fishermen have plucked people out of the water, and some go right back to fishing.”

Local shopkeepers have welcomed the madness. Gary Wardroper, owner of Chilliwack Dart and Tackle, has seen a fourfold increase in business since the arrival of the fish.

“Overnight, it went from doom and gloom about the sockeye to absolute optimism.” The commercial fishery, meanwhile, is struggling to handle the massive run.

Processors are backed up, and it’s difficult to source ice. At Ocean Fisheries Ltd., business is five times what was anticipated. “Measuring and controlling the flow of fish, and trying to earn as much money as we can has been demanding,” says vice-president Greg Taylor. He’s tired, and his men are overworked. Still, he says, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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