Photo courtesy of Matt Lichtenstein

The state’s Board of Fish in January will be considering action plans to restore king salmon returns on rivers in Southeast Alaska. Those plans could mean reduced time or closed seasons for commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries throughout the region.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has recommended that three rivers in the region, the Chilkat near Haines, the King Salmon on Admiralty Island south of Juneau and the Unuk north of Ketchikan be added to the state’s list of stocks of management concern.

Deputy Director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Commercial Fisheries, Forrest Bowers said the first management measures to follow are restrictions to fishing areas.

“So we would look at the distribution of that stock as it’s migrating through the various fishing districts, and we might restrict fishing time and areas where that particular stock is known to be at a high abundance at certain times,” Bowers explained.

Stocks have to fall below the department’s goals for salmon returning to the rivers to spawn over multiple years before getting the recommendation for a stock of concern status. Other major rivers, the Taku near Juneau, the Stikine near Wrangell and Situk near Yakutat are not recommended for the designation. However the department expects conservative management measures for those kings as well. Forecasts for next year on five of those six rivers are the lowest on record.

Bowers said stocks in Southeast have been shrinking since the mid-90s. But he saidFish and Game continued to meet its escapement goals until just a few years ago.

“That tells me that harvest has not been a major driver in the decline because we haven’t really changed our harvest policies in that time period,” Bowers explained. “And we think it’s related to survival in marine waters.”

He thinks possible factors could be food availability, predation, or warming waters.

It will ultimately be up to the Board of Fish to decide on action plans for restoring king salmon runs. That board meets in Sitka in January. Draft action plans written by Fish and Game are available on the website for the Board of Fish here and here. The deadline to comment on these plans is 5 p.m. on December 28th.