Next year’s king salmon return to the Stikine river should be better than last year, but it’s still too small for a commercial fishery in early May. That’s according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game which just put out its preseason forecast for the river which runs through British Columbia and Alaska near Wrangell and Petersburg.

The department estimates 26,000 large kings will return to the Stikine in 2014. Assistant Area Management Biologist Tom Kowalske says that’s close to the threshold for having a fishery but, “The problem is that the confidence in this forecast is not at its highest value and there will be some in-season information that can help us with this forecast in the spring which we will adjust to.”

The department’s preseason forecast model has over-estimated the size of the Stikine run for the past seven years. Over the past five years, that error has averaged about 45 percent. So, the department started reducing its estimates last year, according to Kowalske.

“Last year, we decided to adjust our preseason forecast by 30 percent and see if that adjustment would come closer to what the actual run would be. In fact, last year’s run ended up being pretty close to the forecast with that reduction. So, we decided to do the same thing this year with the actual forecast which was about 37,700 Fish,” he says.

A 31 percent reduction dropped that to 26 thousand fish for 2014. That’s still about 4 thousand fish more than last year. So, Kowalske is optimistic for the future, “I’m excited that it looks better this year than last year by a lot and I’m hopeful it continues on that positive direction.”

The department will monitor the returns to the river and produce an in-season estimate in late May. If the run looks a lot bigger than expected, there could be a fishery.

Trollers and gillnetters were last allowed to target Stikine kings in 2012. However, the fishery was closed due to low catches. Prior to that, it was last opened in 2008.