Commercial Gillnetters and trollers in the Petersburg and Wrangell area will be targeting king salmon in the marine waters near the Stikine River starting early next week. The District 8 king season was closed for the previous three years because the Stikine runs were not big enough. This year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is projecting nearly 41 thousand large kings will return, which is enough for a commercial harvest.

Area management biologist Troy Thynes says, ” “Now in terms of this forecast, it’s probably, over the long term, about an average size king salmon run for the Stikine River. In short term, its actually under average because we’ve had some very large returns in the early 2000’s……What we’ve seen here is this forecast, compared to past years, is is above the last three years pre-season forecast and pretty similar to the 2007 and 2008 forecast.”

The Stikine River king salmon run is shared between Alaska and Canada under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Based on the pre-season forecast, Alaska is allowed a total catch of just under 59 hundred kings including commercial and sport landings. Canada’s share is about 68 hundred fish.

Alaska’s target could change later this month when the state comes up with an in-season forecast based on actual returns to the river

“You know the in-season forecast comes when they’ve gathered enough data form the in-river stock assessment programs projects there and that usually takes probably at least three weeks and they’re going to start that project here, I think, sometime this week,” says Thynes.

Thynes thinks the in-season forecast will likely be out in the third or fourth week of May. The first Stikine king opener is slated for Monday, May 7th with just one day of fishing for gillnetters and three for trollers. Thynes says the department is taking a conservative management approach.

“And the reason for that is what we’ve seen here basically since 2008, we’ve seen a period of decreased run size and a period where our pre-season forecast has been an over-forecast of the terminal run size, especially so the last few years, 2009 through 2011. So, we’re going into this very cautiously,” he says.

The last time the Stikine area fishery was open in 2008, the pre-season forecast was about 46 thousand fish but the final return ended up about 10 thousand short of that. The Stikine fishery typically wraps up by mid-June, when the regular gillnet season opens and the fleet starts targeting sockeye around the region.

Along with the commercial harvests, sport fishermen also get more opportunity to land Stikine kings this year. For instance, sport anglers fishing in district 8 are allowed to use two rods each from the first of May through the 15th of July.

There’s a similar story in the Juneau area District 11 where commercial fishermen will get a chance to target kings returning to the Taku River this month. Juneau area sport anglers will also see liberalized rules. Fish and Game’s preseason forecast for the Taku is about 48 thousand kings and Alaska is allowed to catch 67 hundred.