Birkenhead Sockeye returns down DFO officials sitting on numbers until Fraser audit over Missing Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River have created a stir in the B.C. fishery that is being felt as far north as the Birkenhead River. Officials form the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have confirmed this fall's Birkenhead Sockeye run numbers are down from previous years, but the number of returning salmon will not be released until a formal audit process is finished. "I know the Birkenhead run was down, but I can't say any more than that," says Garry Zwack, Department of Fisheries and Oceans project supervisor. The Birkenhead River connects Birkenhead Lake with Lillooet Lake and is an important link in the Sockeye Salmon spawning system. This fall, projected returns of Sockeye into the Fraser River system were down an estimated 1.7 million fish. Fingers were pointed at poachers along the Fraser, the Native fishery was taken to task, enforcement was criticized for not being tight enough and a full-fledged public audit was ordered by the DFO. Until the audit is over it is unclear how the missing Sockeye have affected the Birkenhead run. The Birkenhead run typically begins around Labour Day and continues until the third week of October. According to Tracy Cone, a DFO data analyst, the Birkenhead is a late run and the Fraser is an early run. Because the formal review and audit of the Fraser is already underway in the Lower Mainland, DFO officials are sitting on late run returns until the missing Sockeye can be found or a reason for the low return can be determined. "The (Birkenhead) numbers will not be made public until January," Cone says. "There are a number of reasons why the stocks are down in the Birkenhead, but we won't be commenting on any of those until after this whole disappearing Sockeye business in the Fraser has been dealt with. It's unfortunate, but those are the directions we have been given." In the late fall of 1990, the Birkenhead experienced a large flood shortly after the Sockeye run was complete and if the flooding damaged spawning beds or dislodged eggs, the 1994 run would be adversely affected. Harry O'Donaghey, manager of the Gates Creek Spawning Channel in D'Arcy, says Sockeye returns were down there as well this year. "We expected a run in the 6,000 range and we only got 4,000 in the channel," O'Donaghey says. The 1994 run was expected to be a relatively small one, according to O'Donaghey. The big year for Sockeye returns is going to be next year, a brood run, when 70,000 to 100,000 Sockeye are expected to jam the Gates Creek channel. The brood run is going to be a big indicator regarding long-term health of the Sockeye population on the West Coast and if the brood run numbers are down substantially, O'Donaghey says B.C.'s salmon stocks could quickly head in the direction of Newfoundland's beleaguered cod fishery. "Conservation is going to be the only way to keep the stocks up," he says. "It's getting down to crunch time especially with people poaching. It shouldn't happen and they should be aware of what's going on with the fish."