After this summer’s one-and-only opening for king salmon, many Southeast commercial trollers have found something else to do, instead of fishing for coho or chums.
King fishing was open for eight days in July and the fleet landed just over 165,000 Chinook during that time. Pattie Skannes is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s troll management biologist for Southeast. She said the effort in the troll fishery since that king salmon opening is at historically low levels. “We looked all the way back to 1980 and compared the number of permits fished each week this year, compared to the past. This is the lowest on record going all the way back to 1980 and that’s related strongly to price. The price per pound is also very low.”
Trollers who did stick with the summer fishery normally target coho or chums. The average troll-caught coho price this summer is 88 cents a pound, a little over half of the long-term average. Fleet numbers were higher during the first and only summer king opening in July. However, Skannes thinks many trollers since then opted to do something else.
“I’ve talked to several trollers during the past few weeks who just tell they’re done for the season,” Skannes said. “Some have switched to doing other fisheries, could be longlining or shrimping, or crabbing. Some headed south after the king opening. I’ve heard that some of the trollers who have tuna permits down south went down to do that instead.”
Skannes thinks effort will continue to decline through the rest of the summer season and thinks the run could come near the long term average.
Catch rates for coho started off strong in July but have since dropped down to be near average, in mid-August around 70 per boat, per day. As of the middle of this month, the fleet had totalled around 741,000 coho since July 1st.
This season was unusual with no second king opening and no closure to allow coho to escape to the inside waters of Southeast.
Some in the fleet have spent their summer catching hatchery chums. This month part of the fleet hase been fishing for dog salmon returning to the Medvejie Hatchery and Deep Inlet in Sitka Sound. Skannes said in mid-August 96 boats fishing in that area.
“During the month of August we’ve had a total of 144 permits fishing here at one time or another,” she said, adding, “In other words the effort has been relatively high. The return is projected to be one point three million.”
Trollers have caught 176,000 chum in that part of Sitka Sound this month. Earlier in the summer, other focus was on chum returning to Neets Bay between Wrangell and Ketchikan. The total catch to date there was 124-thousand summer chum since early July. Another run of fall chum also return there later in the summer.
As for prices, troll-caught chum are fetching an average of 55 cents a pound this summer. Kings started out just below three dollars a pound and dropped to around 2.79 in that one summer opening.
The season is open until September 20th but can be extended for strong coho numbers.