The 2016 forecast for Chinook salmon in the Taku River is weak again this year. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its outlook earlier this month. The low numbers mean that commercial fishermen will not be permitted to fish in the pre-season king opener. It’s been more than four years since the run was strong enough on the Taku for the allowable commercial catch.
The Fish and Game forecast is for 29,200 Chinook in 2016 on the Taku. That’s about 10,000 short of an Allowed Catch. The U.S Allowed Catch is formula determined through the Pacific Salmon Treaty which regulates the number that opens a fishery or not. Dave Harris is a fisheries biologist with ADF&G. He says the last time the waterway was open to commercial gillnet fishing was about four years ago, but it didn’t last long.
“So in 2012, the last time we fished, we started out with a small-allowed catch – we had a couple of 12-hour openings – and then once we got the in-season information from the river, it turned out the run was less than we thought and so we stopped fishing at that time,” Harris says.
But, Harris adds, the numbers are improving compared to the last few seasons.
“We feel that maybe we’ve turned the corner and that things will get better in future seasons now.”
The 2015 king return was also better than predicted.
“We achieved our escapement goal this past year and so things are certainly looking brighter on the Taku anyway,” he says. “King salmon across the state have been having challenges and experiences less productivity in the ocean. And it seems at least as far as king salmon for the state, things are starting to come around a little bit better now.”
There is a commercial fishery and an assessment fishery on the Canadian side of the Taku. The Canadian commercial operation is provided an Allowed Catch at a smaller run size. Harris says that number is around 34,000. The assessment fishery harvests around 1,400 fish to help generate in-season estimates.
The Taku River was closed to commercial king fishing for more than three decades back in the ‘70s, but opened in the mid-2000s after Alaska struck a harvest-share agreement with Canada.
“We started fishing in 2005 at the peak of one of those cycles and then I think we fished in ’05 and ’06 and again in 2009 and then we’ve got through the bottom end of that cycle. It would appear that we’re moving back up and we’re hopeful that that’s the case.”
Mark Sogge is the Haines’ commercial fisheries biologist for Fish and Game. He says the Taku River fishery is a great one when it’s open, with good prices and nice fish.
“I think anytime an area can be open for a fishery, especially in the early part of the season, it’s extremely helpful to the fishermen,” Sogge says. “It’s a long winter.”
But, he adds, no one really depends on it because it’s rarely open. It’s more like a bonus.
While in-season run-size estimates will be produced starting in late May of 2016, it’s unlikely any directed fisheries will occur in 2016 on the Taku. According to the department, forecasts for both the Taku and the Stikine have consistently overestimated the final terminal run-size estimates in the recent past. As a result, forecasts were reduced by their respective five-year average percentages. An additional consideration taken into account for revising the forecasts is the general poor performance of Chinook-salmon stocks throughout the region in recent years.
The 2016 preseason terminal run-size forecast for Stikine River large-Chinook salmon is 33,900 fish. The resulting U.S. Allowable Catch is 1,100 salmon. That means a limited commercial fishery will open in that district, District 8, starting on May 2. Specific opening times and areas will be released in mid-April.