Hatchery chums are raised in Thomas Bay on the mainland near Petersburg. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Many commercial salmon fishermen open their season in Southeast Alaska this weekend. Around the Petersburg area, purse seiners and trollers will have a chance at some new or increased hatchery chum salmon. All gear groups continue to see conservation measures to limit catches of Stikine River king salmon.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Troy Thynes said 2019 marks the first year of expected returns of hatchery chums to a remote release site at Thomas Bay on the mainland near Petersburg.

“The return is not expected to be too large with an expectation of only 10,000 chum salmon returning,” Thynes said. “Nevertheless we are prepared for that and have drawn in boundaries within Thomas Bay to define the terminal harvest area and have set rotations between the purse seine and troll gear.”

As an aside, Thynes started a new job with the department in May. He’s now area management coordinator for commercial fisheries, a regional job, with responsibility for commercial salmon net fisheries, herring, dive fisheries and the pot shrimp fishery.

Thomas Bay will be open to seining on Sundays and Thursdays starting June 16. It’s open to trolling in between. Gillnetters are not included in the terminal harvest area but may catch some of those new chum once district 8 waters open to gillnetting.

This summer will see a similar rotation for seiners and trollers at another hatchery release site at Southeast Cove near Kake. That site has an expected return of 1,776,000 chum. The area has been a cost recovery fishery in past years. That means a small portion of the fleet is contracted to catch those fish to help to pay for the annual production of hatchery salmon. However Thynes said this there will be some openings for the rest of the fleet.

“There’ll still be a large part of it will be going to cost recovery as contracts were already in place for the cost recovery but depending on the run size, purse seine openings will go to at least July 4th and at that time the run will be assessed,” he explained. “And if there’s surplus above what was needed for cost recovery then purse seine openings will continue.”

Openings there will be announced on a weekly basis. Fish at both Southeast Cove and Thomas Bay are produced by the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association or NSRAA. Another 1.6 million chums are forecast to return to NSRAA’s Hidden Falls hatchery on Baranof Island. That spot also has its first opening for the seine fleet June 16.

Meanwhile the drift gillnet fishery will open June 16 for two days in district 6 near northern Prince of Wales Island. District 8 in the waters around Petersburg and Wrangell remains closed for a week or two to conserve Stikine River king salmon. Areas that are open also have mesh net size limits to limit king salmon catches. Gillnet time this year also may see reductions to reduce catches of sockeye salmon.

“The forecast for Stikine River sockeye was for well below average run this year,” Thynes said. “I have not heard any reports of anybody seeing any sockeye to date but then again we haven’t had any fisheries to speak of that have occurred or are occurring.”

Managers are forecasting a run of 90,000 Stikine River sockeye. The 10-year average is just over 150,000. Region-wide over 18 million hatchery chum salmon are forecast this year. The forecast is also for 18 million pink salmon in Southeast.