While other parts of Alaska are seeing disappointing returns of king salmon, Southeast’s Chinook runs have been coming in close to expectations, for the most part.
For iFriendly audio, click here:
It’s a mix of king salmon swimming through the Panhandle at this time of year. Some are making their way back to rivers in Oregon and Washington, others are returning to the Stikine River near Wrangell or the Taku River near Juneau. Another 100-thousand kings are expected to return to the region’s hatchery facilities.
Bill Davidson, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s regional salmon management coordinator, said in general Southeast king returns have been good. “I’m not seeing an overall trend of poor returns or anything like that,” Davidson said. “I think the Taku is one run that did not come in as expected but the Stikine is slightly down and it’s really too early to tell on the hatchery returns and of course as far as coastwide abundance the July 1 opening is going to tell us a lot about how the king runs are doing.”
July 1st is start of the first summer troll opening targeting wild king salmon. It’s expected to last eight to 10 days. Until then, trollers can continue fishing in spring openings that target hatchery kings. Fish and Game projects the region-wide spring season troll catch will top 26,000 kings, a little lower than recent years.
Returns are looking a little better around the Stikine River. The preseason forecast for the Stikine was 41,000 kings. Initially that was enough to allow some early season fishing for gillnetters and trollers in May. However, fishing was closed that month due to low catches and poor returns on the river. When fishing reopened this month, gillnetters landed 2,400 kings for two days of fishing in district 8 around Petersburg and Wrangell.
Davidson said the gillnet catch may be a mix of hatchery fish returning to Anita Bay or wild fish heading to the Stikine. “In that first fishery a lot of the fishermen put on seven inch nets to target king salmon so the catch we got a bump up in the catch this past week,” he said. “The Stikine River is expected to meet its escapement goal and yesterday we just received word of the fifth in-season forecast for the Stikine River. That came out at 33,600 so that does provide an allowable catch for the United States as well as Canada.”
Meanwhile, one return that is not getting close to expectations is on the Taku River. Davidson says numbers have not improved there. “The Taku River the pre-season forecast was for 48,000 terminal run and the sixth in-season forecast came out yesterday at 13,000 and it’s substantially below,” he said. “And each successive in-season forecast has been about the same so there isn’t much variation and expectations for the Taku. It’s simply a weak return.”
King salmon prices in the spring troll fishery are averaging about six dollars and ten cents a pound. Kings are the least abundant and most valuable salmon in Southeast; last year Chinook accounted for about nine percent of the value of the region’s salmon catch.