Commercial troll fishing for king salmon in Southeast Alaska this winter is not like it has been the last few years. The troll fleet catch and the number of boats out fishing are both well down from last year and also below the five and ten-year averages. By late January, the catch had neared 8,000 Chinook, with more than half of those kings landed in the waters around Sitka Sound. Eight thousand is just one quarter of what the catch was at this time last year.

“I would say that the past three years have been phenomenal for the troll fishery so seeing a decrease now doesn’t necessarily mean that the fishery’s terrible, it just means that we’re going back to lower averages,” said Rhea Ehresmann is assistant troll management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The last three winter seasons have seen strong catches. The last two years fishing has ended early as the fleet has hit the 45-thousand fish season limit well before the end of April. In fact the last two seasons have seen a record set for the earliest end to the season. That doesn’t look to be the case this year the way the season has started.

The price started strong and has continued to grow, averaging over 10 dollars a pound in some weeks.

“Well we started the winter fishery off at 8.53 per pound on average which is one of the highest if not the highest average starting price for the winter fishery,” Ehresmann said. “So as a whole this year, the winter price has been terrific.”

Photo courtesy of Matt Lichtenstein

Photo courtesy of Matt Lichtenstein

Also up is the size of fish this winter, with troll caught kings averaging almost a pound and a half larger than last year. But the number of permits fished this year is only at 262 through January. That number has topped 400 in some recent years. So why aren’t more boats fishing? Ehresmann thinks it’s a combination of factors. “Between weather and just a decrease in abundance some fishermen just don’t find it worth it to try and scratch for a few fish,” she said. “Even though the price is great, average weights are up, to fish for several days for just a handful of fish isn’t worth it for them.”

The season opened October 11th and will continue until April 30th unless the catch hits 45,000 fish before that time.