After years of downturn, Port Alberni is bracing for a wave of good fortune. It’s forecast to be one of the best salmon returns in the region in years, and federal restrictions imposed on Chinook fishing elsewhere are responsible for the sudden surge.

“Not very happy for the East Coast of the Island and the South Island but they spared us in Alberni,” said Bob Cole of the Sport Fishing Advisory Council.

“Which is good because we have a record run maybe the most chinook returning in 20 or 30 years,” said Cole.

Last week Fisheries and Oceans announced strict non-retention measures, to protect chinook salmon returning to the Fraser River system this year.

In Alberni though, record runs are anticipated so fishermen are expected to flock here.

130,000 chinook salmon are expected in Robertson Creek alone.

With only 400 rooms in the fishing mecca, the business community is wondering how it will handle all the visitors expected to start arriving in the west coast community within weeks.

“That puts extra pressure on,” said Cole.

“Yeah for sure,” said Bill Collette, Executive Director of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“If something like this makes people think well maybe I should invest in Port Alberni that’s the windfall in terms of what could happen in terms of future investment.”

“The upper Fraser River chinook problem is going to take 4 or 5 or more years to resolve,” said Cole.

“As long as we keep having fish here that’s wonderful.

“But the rest of the Island, the rest of the coast has to find a way to increase the number of chinook especially the ones of concern,” he said.

How many visitors will arrive is unclear, but longtime fisherman Bob Cole says it was back in the 1990’s that numbers reflecting these salmon returns were last seen.
So hotels are expecting to start filling up faster than the fish in the Alberni Inlet.

Skye Ryan