A low preseason forecast for Chilkat River king salmon has prompted the state to tread lightly when it comes to management in the region. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced this week that commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries will be “managed conservatively” in the Upper Lynn Canal, Chilkat Inlet and the Chilkat River.
Waterways around Haines will be closed in part, or restricted for king fishing this season, according to ADF&G. The low numbers also prompted the Haines Sportsman’s Association to cancel the annual King Salmon Derby for the second year in a row.
Rich Chapell is the area sport-fish biologist for Fish and Game. He says the restrictions for sport fishing are the same as last year.
“Chilkat Inlet will be closed to sport fishing from April 15 through July 15, just like last year,” he says. “And for the remainder of area 15A, which is Lynn Canal north of Point Sherman, the bag limit will be on king salmon per day for the rest of the year starting April 15.”
Chapell says the king run has struggled to meet escapement goals since 2012.
“But we did meet the escapement goal last year, in 2015, and that was thanks to the restrictions we put on the sport fishery, and the commercial fishery and the subsistence fishery.”
Chapell says sport fishermen have been very supportive of the conservation methods.
On the commercial side, Chilkat Inlet north of Seduction Point will be closed to king fishing through the second week of the season, which starts in mid-June. Also, commercial fishing openers in the western portion of the Upper Lynn Canal south of Seduction Point will likely be shorter and sparser.
Mark Sogge is the area biologist for commercial and subsistence fisheries. He says the restrictions this year for subsistence fishing are a little different than last.
“We’re feeling that we can allow a little more subsistence use,” Sogge says. “Right now the line is from Glacier Point north, but we’re restricting that to say ‘you can’t fish from Glacier Point north until July 2.’ But after July 2, we’re going to open up a small area, with all the other regulations that are tied to commercial fishing openings, from the north end of Kochu (Island) to Glacier Point.”
By waiting until after July 2, Sogge says the hope is that most of the big kings will have moved past that area on their way to the spawning grounds.
Sogge adds that the subsistence fishery in Lutak and Chilkoot Inlets, north of Battery Point, will open as normal on June 18.
The subsistence gillnet fishery in the Chilkat River, excluding the portion of the river from 19 Mile continuing upstream to Wells Bridge will be closed June 15 to July 31.
According to a release from the department, the plan for all three fisheries aims to achieve an in-river run of 1,850 to 3,600 large king salmon. The projection is around 1,700.
“We start running the fish wheels and the driftnet program on the Chilkat River at 7 Mile and 8 Mile somewhere in the beginning of June,” says Sogge. “And once we get going, then we’ll be able to assess better between what the run strength is for king salmon. Like the rest of fisheries management, this is all in flux.”
Besides the ongoing slump in king numbers, another factor that might affect fishing restrictions is the state budget. Sogge says cuts to the department’s budget mean less money for programs, which in turn means less information is gathered. And with less information collected about fish numbers, the department has to err on the side of caution when it comes to management.
“I mean, I will end up being more conservative if I don’t have the information. That’s just the basic truth.”
Chapell says he’s optimistic that the king numbers are on an upswing. He says at least for now, they’re not getting worse.