Commercial fishermen in the Upper Lynn Canal are working overtime after a flood of sockeye salmon showed up last week. So far, this season is shaping up to be a good one, with decent returns, healthy harvests, and larger fish.
Wednesday, Aug. 10 is officially Alaska Wild Salmon Day. And with an extended opener this week because of abundant sockeye, Lynn Canal gillnetters are celebrating. Hard.
Last week saw a couple of escapement records set for the number of reds through the weir on the Chilkoot River.
“It’s a phenomenal push of fish all at once,” says Mark Sogge, Haines’ area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He says a week and half ago, the cumulative total of sockeye through the weir was around 30,000.
“Now we’re at 76,000. We’ve more than doubled. We’ve had both a record week and a record daily escapement over 13,000 in one day, and 40,000 for last week.”
He says there were clues that the big run was coming, but the count at the weir had fallen off the week before. So, he was a little conservative with the openers.
“Not this opening, but the week before, I did just a 24-hour opening and we harvested about 20,000 sockeye in that week,” Sogge says. “That was more conservative than people have done in the past, probably. But at that point we were sitting at 31,000 escapement and our goal range is 38,000 – 86,000.”
On Monday, Sogge hit the water to scope out the numbers, and where the fleet was fishing. He says there were about 60 to 70 boats, which is a little low.
“A lot of the boats were attracted to what was happening further south in Taku and the Snettisham Hatchery, which has a chance to produce a huge number of sockeye, so I think that drew a lot of boats.”
This week’s fishing period in section 15-A was extended by emergency order until Thursday because of the sudden flux. And it may be prolonged until the weekend, though nothing has been decided yet.
The size of the sockeye on the Chilkoot side, which were scrawny last year, are a little more plump this season.
As for Chilkat, the department isn’t expecting a big year. And, Sogge says, some fishermen are reporting smaller fisher, though that might just be the early run.
At the fish wheels on the Chilkat River, about 3,000 fish have been counted, with a steady 50 to a 100 fish per day. Sogge says the numbers at Chilkat Lake, are OK at around 20,000 so far. That’s just above the minimum number that the department likes to see by now.
“Our expectation is not for a strong Chilkat run, but you never know,” Sogge says.
Harvest numbers for sockeye aren’t tabulated yet, but the strong chum run earlier this season saw at least 800,000 netted. The return of pink salmon was low across Northern Southeast.
The commercial season in Northern Southeast lasts through September with Klehini and Chilkat chums and Chilkat sockeye. But Sogge says, until he knows more about those numbers, he’ll err on the side of caution when it comes to opener lengths in the near future.
Sogge says as far as he knows, the price for sockeye and chum have stayed pretty consistent throughout the season at around $1.50 per pound for reds and $0.60 for chum. Last season saw prices drop after two previous banner years. The average for sockeye last year, according to Fish and Game, was just over a buck and a half, while chum averaged $0.44.
Next week, the fishing period doesn’t open until Monday at noon, instead of the usual Sunday. That’s to coincide with the Juneau salmon derby. And, Sogge says, it’ll give subsistence fishermen in Chilkoot Inlet more time to get their share on the weekend without the conflict of commercial boats.
The commercial salmon season started on June 19 in the Upper Lynn Canal and runs until about the second week of October. Of course, that all depends on the fish.