For the second year in a row, Petersburg won’t have its Memorial Day weekend king salmon sport fishing derby.
For 36 years, the event paid out cash prizes for the largest king salmon landed during a four-day weekend. That run ended last year with king salmon fishing closures on most of the inside waters of Southeast Alaska to conserve chinook returning to rivers in the region. This year’s closures are the same. Anglers cannot keep king salmon starting April 1st in the waters around Petersburg and Wrangell.
The Petersburg Chamber of Commerce put on the annual derby. Chamber director Mara Lutomski agrees the event will be hard to restart if king salmon rebound.
“It will be difficult especially for the outside people who come in specifically to attend the derby,” Lutomski said. “You know of course locals love participating in the derby but we do get a fair amount of people who come into town specifically for the derby and oftentimes they plan their trip to Petersburg, to Alaska, to coincide with that derby too. So, we have been feeling the loss of that revenue and I know that some of our stores downtown have been feeling the loss of the revenue that’s spent during that weekend. So, it’s tough all the way around to not have such a big event happening in our town.”
The fishing closures are due to historically low returns of kings to Southeast rivers like the Stikine. This year’s forecast for that river is for a return of 8,250 chinook, well below goals set for fish returning to spawn. The fishing closure runs until July 14th for waters closest to the Stikine. It only lasts until June 14th for other waters. And there’s expected to be an earlier opening for fishing on hatchery kings returning to Blind Slough and City Creek.
While other communities have switched to a coho derby later in the summer, Lutomski said that’s not something chamber members want to lead.
“The Memorial Day weekend was kind of a chance that during that springtime they could put some effort towards the planning,” she explained. “So with a thought of a Labor Day coho derby or whatnot, that really puts a pinch on some of the people’s ability to volunteer, to kind of head up an event like that.”
She says the chamber might be willing to support another group organizing that kind of competition. Low king salmon numbers also mean closures and restrictions for commercial and subsistence fisheries again this year.