An unusual foe is frustrating Haines fishermen in the last few weeks of the season. A rust-colored algae bloom floating in the Lynn Canal is clinging to gillnets and turning off fish that would otherwise be caught.
“I’m disgruntled, I’m going to pull my net off and quit,” says Bill Thomas. He’s been fishing for 47 years and he says this year, the algae are the worst he’s ever seen. He’s at the Haines harbor, washing the remainder of the brownish-red slime off of the net of the F/V Raven’s Walk.
“This is the worst ever,” says Thomas. “I mean we had the power washer on the net. Back here you can see the little bar there, it sprays water out and it’s just a solid rust color down below.”
Fishermen often deal with algae, but Thomas says it’s not usually as widespread as he’s seen in recent weeks.
“We’d see little blooms of them around,” says Thomas. “But not the whole bay, from here down, from what I understand to Mab Island.”
Ryan Cook is the president of the Lynn Canal Gillnetters Association. He says the bloom has been around the canal for three or four weeks now.
“Some of its brown,” says Cook. “Some of the stuff I had the other day was orange. It’s just slimy.”
He says the algae sticks to fishermen’s nets, making it look like a wall.
“And the fish just see this big wall in front and they go around it,” says Cook.
The algae is a nuisance, but it shouldn’t have a major impact on the fishery overall. Cook expects to be gillnetting for another few weeks.
“I definitely have another opening,” says Mark Sogge, the Haines area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“Next week will determine what I do the following week,” says Sogge. “That and if people want to keep fishing, if the processers want to keep buying and if the fish are available.”
Sogge says dealing with algae is nothing new for fishermen.
“It’s not usually as much of a problem as it’s been this year,” says Sogge. “It’s not like it doesn’t occur sometimes but it seems consistently thick from Mab Island all the way up to in front of town up here. So that does cut down their efficiency for sure.”
Still, Sogge is not really concerned about the number of fish being caught.
“That would occur if we end up in a situation where we’re over-escaping the system,” says Sogge. “So we couldn’t, in other words, couldn’t harvest the fish because the fish were going underneath this algae and deeper than the nets were and then we were over-escaping. That hasn’t occurred.”
Sogge says escapement for fall chum is around average right now and is projected to be about 200,000 fish. But for fishermen like Thomas, it’s just not worth continuing the season, for the amount of fish he’s bringing in. He says in one day he caught six dogs, four coho and a sockeye.