Three fishing areas near Petersburg and Wrangell will open to king salmon sport fishing next month, while many of the region’s inside waters remain closed.
In March, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game placed restrictions over the inside waters of Southeast Alaska to protect king salmon, which for the past few years have returned from the sea in low numbers. Fish and Game biologist Patrick Fowler said sport fishing for kings will be permitted in areas stocked with hatchery fish, such as Blind Slough on Mitkof Island and a long section of Wrangell Narrows.
“Our preseason forecast for Blind Slough is pretty good, so we’re going to open it June 1st with a two-fish-over-28-inches and a two-fish-under-28-inches bag limit. That’ll be effective both for the saltwater portion of that area and the freshwater,” Fowler said.
Waters around the mouth of City Creek in Petersburg will also be open with a bag limit of one. “We’re expecting a very small number of king salmon to come back there, and they’re going to be four ocean fish, so they’ve been out in the ocean for four years,” Fowler said.
He said normally, most king salmon in the creek are returning after three years, but a fire at the Crystal Lake hatchery in 2014 affected that population. That means this year’s group may be sparser, with fish that are on average larger in size.
Southwest of Wrangell, anglers may keep up to one salmon longer than 28 inches from Anita Bay, another hatchery-fed area. The earlier restrictions will remain in effect until mid-summer, when most king salmon would have already passed through those areas.
Brian Doyle is from Petersburg, and now lives in Juneau, where sport fishing for kings is currently off limits. He is planning to take the ferry south next weekend to fish in City Creek and the Wrangell Narrows.
“Last year, we were only allowed to fish for two weeks in total for king salmon and it was a very poor return,” Doyle said. “So Petersburg’s fish – the higher numbers that seem to be coming back to the Crystal Lake hatchery and the surrounding areas have always drawn me back down there.”
Doyle said he understands the restrictions.
“Especially with the confusion I suppose about what exactly is going on out in the ocean to cause such poor returns, I think we could all just take a break and give those runs a chance to recover and hopefully in a couple years we’ll be back to having good king returns,” Doyle said.
It is not clear why so few kings are coming back from the Pacific. Fowler said there’s evidence that something in the marine environment is impeding their ability to survive the first 90 days of ocean life.
“There’s some research that suggests the early marine survival period is maybe the largest component of why marine survival is so poor,” Fowler said.
This year Fish and Game also closed the Stikine River to subsistence fishing and reduced the total harvest limit for sport and commercial fishing of king salmon by 10 percent. The reduction is to help meet harvests called for in the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada.