Commercial salmon trollers in Southeast can expect a region-wide fishing closure for coho salmon in August. One part of the region is already being shut down because of low coho numbers. But a second king salmon opening is likely to keep the fleet on the water.
Trollers have been targeting coho and chum salmon since the end of the five day opening for king salmon at the beginning of July. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game typically has a short closure in early August to allow coho to return to the inside waters of Southeast. The decision hasn’t been made yet. But, Grant Hagerman, the department’s troll management biologist for the region, calls a longer region-wide coho closure “likely” this summer.
“In previous years we’ve had you know four or five day closures, that’s been kind of the norm for the last 10 years or so,” Hagerman said. “So we could be looking at something a little more lengthy than that. Maybe not having to close for the mandatory, or longest duration 10-day period but we could be looking at something a little bit longer than what we’ve done in previous years, as the numbers on the outside are lower. You know there may not be as much passing to the inside and that’s really kind of what that August closure is about.”
Coho catches are average to below average in most of the region this summer. In addition, the department announced a 10-day closure starting July 28th for waters south of Ketchikan and southern Prince of Wales Island, along the border with British Columbia. Low harvest numbers prompted the closure on both sides of the border under terms of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada.
After the region-wide coho shutdown, trollers will have a second opening for king salmon. There are still around 25,000 chinook remaining for the fleet to target this summer. The July opening was right on target, with a total catch of around 58,000 fish. Around a thousand of those were Alaska hatchery kings.
The prospects for the second king opening are good. Last year trollers took two weeks to reach their target for the first opening. This year the fleet hit the target harvest in five days. Hagerman said the fleet had the best success offshore of Sitka and Craig.
“The fleet just was able to find fish, earlier on in the fishery,” he explained. “I think a lot of them had started offshore in federal waters, outside our state waters of three mile and the fish were there, the fish were deep. Very similar distribution to last year but it just took the fleet longer last year I think to find those fish out in the deep. So that may be a big difference.”
The high catch rate for king salmon doesn’t correlate to effort, however. The number of trollers on the water last year was low and Hagerman said that this year was even lower.
“So this right around 600 permits is quite a bit different than some of these previous years, where like I said sometimes we’ve 850-900 boats, so that’s a pretty significant drop in the number of permits,” he said. “So with that, still having catch rates of 11,000 a day, that holds up to some of the better catch rates, for a July opening. So that just goes to show how good those catch rates were to have fewer boats still catching that much fish per day.”
Throughout the summer, trollers can also stay out fishing for chum in some hatchery areas.
The price for troll-caught king salmon was also down substantially from last year. It was close to $8.50 a pound last year and around five dollars a pound this year. The chum price has also nosedived, from 90 cents a pound last year down to 55 cents a pound this year. The only price that is nearly holding steady is for coho, around 1.50 a pound.