Fishermen In British Columbia See Salmon Glut

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Fishermen along the Fraser River in British Columbia are having the best sockeye salmon season in memory. A salmon run estimated at 25 million fish means long hours and big bucks for the anglers. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to fisherman Robert McKamey about his catch this season.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We are, frankly, so accustomed to bringing you bad news of the biosphere - floods, storms, famines, you name it - this next item feels almost unreal. In the Fraser River of British Columbia and its tributaries, there are more sockeye salmon this year than anyone can remember.

So many salmon that American and Canadian fishermen, tribal and commercial fishermen, all the fishermen seem to be getting enough. It's estimated that 25 million salmon have retuned, and that is more than twice what was forecast.

Joining us now by phone is Robert McKamey, who's a fisherman. Mr. McKamey, are you on board your boat in the Fraser?

Mr. ROBERT McKAMEY (Fisherman): I'm on my boat, yeah. As we speak, we're just going back up the river to make another (unintelligible).

SIEGEL: And tell us how big your catch has been.

Mr. McKAMEY: How big our catch is today?

SIEGEL: Uh-huh.

Mr. McKAMEY: Oh, we don't usually share that, but it's around a thousand fish.

SIEGEL: And compared to previous seasons, how does it look to you?

Mr. McKAMEY: It's going to be a fantastic year. Already, it has been -well, we - the last three years, we didn't fish at all. There was no fishing for the last three years, so to have this kind of fishing now is almost surreal.

SIEGEL: And for the fishermen, I mean, how different is the routine when you're having a great year like this than when you're having a normal year a few years ago?

Mr. McKAMEY: The feeling is just great. It's not all about the money. It's just so nice to see the fish coming back in the numbers that they are, and the fish are healthy and big and strong. And it bodes well for the future when you see this kind of a return. We know that four years from now we're going to have some good fishing as well.

SIEGEL: And when you say it's not about - it's not all about the money. It is, however, it means good money for fishermen, though, if you have a season like this, obviously.

Mr. McKAMEY: It is, but I - to tell you the truth, I've been fishing now for 30 hours, and I never once thought about the money. I thought about the fish and thought about being a fisherman. And my wife and I shared all this time on the boat together catching fish, and I never gave any thought to the money, but I guess I will later on when it comes time to pay the bills.

SIEGEL: Have you heard a reasonable explanation, to you, a plausible explanation as to why there are so many sockeye salmon this year?

Mr. McKAMEY: No, I haven't. We haven't had time to slow down and think about it. There will be a lot of time spent analyzing how this happened.

SIEGEL: But for now, it's just time to catch the fish is what you're telling me?

Mr. McKAMEY: It's just time to go fishing for a bunch of fishermen who've gone through some real hard times, and you can just see the big smile from everybody's face. And it's just so great to be back on the water and catching fish again.

SIEGEL: Now, on the water now, is the river crowded with boats? Is everybody out?

Mr. McKAMEY: No, it's - yeah, the usual crowd. These are all guys that I've grown up with and fished around all my life. Every one of them is a second or third or fourth generation fisherman, so we've got a very deep attachment to this river.

SIEGEL: Now, I just want you to briefly explain for those of us who - we don't fish salmon. We order salmon...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: ...instead.

Mr. McKAMEY: Yeah.

SIEGEL: There's a four-year cycle here that governs the salmon.

Mr. McKAMEY: That's right. For instance, this year here is the product of the fish that spawned in the rivers in 2006. So they've been out in the ocean feeding and growing out there for three years now, and now they've come back in the fourth year.

SIEGEL: And based on what you're seeing, you can mark your calendar for 2014, and so that should be another good year.

Mr. McKAMEY: That's right. It will be an excellent year, something to look forward to for all of us.

SIEGEL: Mr. McKamey, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. McKAMEY: Very good, thank you.

SIEGEL: Fisherman Robert McKamey, speaking to us from aboard his boat in the Fraser River in British Columbia, where there are more sockeye salmon this year than in any year in recent memory.

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