Commercial fishing for Stikine River king salmon has been closed down in Southeast Alaska because of low numbers in early May.

“Both the harvest numbers from the gillnet and the troll fisheries have been on the low side,” said Troy Thynes, area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Petersburg. “Actually not so much in the troll fishery, especially early on, but in the gillnet fishery they’ve been low, lot lower than what we were expecting or anticipating for the given pre-season forecast.”

KFSK file photo

KFSK file photo

Catches of the valuable fish returning to the trans-boundary river are regulated jointly by the U.S. and Canada under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The pre-season forecast was for a run of just under 34-thousand kings this year, a large enough run to allow for commercial fishing on those Chinook on this side of the border. However, fishing has been very slow for the gillnet fleet in the waters around Wrangell and Petersburg. Gillnetters had three, 24-hour openings in May and around 25 boats made landings. Those boats averaged only one to three fish per boat for those openings.

Besides commercial catches, fishery managers also use mark-recapture surveys on fish that make it back to the lower Stikine River to gauge the strength of the run. Thynes said this year has seen the lowest numbers since that tagging started in 1996.

Typically the department updates its forecast for the Stikine run by late May. This year returns have been too low for the department to come up with an in-season forecast. Thynes said managers don’t have an indication yet of what’s happening with the Stikine king run. Both commercial gillnetting and trolling have been closed. Returns could still rebound and Thynes (TEA-ness) says it’s possible the run is just late.

“You know they were at least a week late last year,” he said. “We were seeing better numbers last year at this time then we are seeing this year. It’s certainly a possibility and on an El Nino year, everybody’s heard about the warm water Blob, that certainly can affect fish behavior and timing.” Half, or more, of the overall return could be yet to make it back to the river, depending on timing.

Commercial fisheries are still happening on the river across the border in Canada. Catches there will give managers an indication on the run strength, along with sport fishing catches on this side of the border. Sport fishing remains on liberalized means and bag limits in District 8 around Wrangell and Petersburg.

King returns on another transboundary river in Southeast, the Taku near Juneau, have also been lower than expected so far. Without a big change in the return, the gillnet fleet around Wrangell and Petersburg will be tied up until sockeye fishing starts June 13. Meanwhile, the troll fleet has spring openings on hatchery kings in other parts of the region through the end of next month.