By Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS News

Big fish, lots of effort starts off commercial fishing season

If there are two distinguishing features about this year’s commercial gillnet salmon season this early in the season, it is big fish and lots of boats.
In the first three weeks of fishing, record number of gillnet boats have fished in the Northern Lynn Canal, – the area officially designated 15C. Last week, 240 boats were counted – and that’s up from last year record count of 190 boats for the same week last year. Fifty-seven Haines residents hold salmon gillnet permits, meaning the Lynn Canal had a host of boats from around the region.

But, at least in the last two weeks, there are ample fish to catch. A total of 140,000 chum salmon were caught last week by the fleet. And Fish and Game commercial fish biologist Randy Bachman says the fish are big.

“The average weight on chum is close to 10 pounds so that’s quite a bit larger than it was last year,” Bachman said.

Processors are paying between 60 and 65 cents a pound according to local fishermen. That’s about the same price as last year. The chums are hatchery fish from Douglas Island Pink and Chum in Juneau. Seiners also had a crack at the chum last week at Almega Harbor. The company writes on it website it will provide another update on Almega on July 3rd.
As for the gillnetters, while the scuttlebutt reveals most are targeting chum, the sockeye are not being overlooked. Twenty-three-hundred sockeye were recorded caught last week. Bachman said the Chilkat sockeye run is looking strong and the fish wheels are showing some of the highest numbers on records.

“The Chilkat Lake sockeye early return seems to be extremely strong. We’ve had good showings, good catches in our fish wheels as well as extremely high sonar counts up at Chilkat Lake early this season. It was a strong forecast for a Chilkat Lake return and it’s looking even stronger than that. Fish wheel catches are within the highest on record for this time,” Bachman said.
Biologists expected a less successful run for the Chilkoot, based on this year’s parent run of 2009 that fell below escapement goals. Area and time restrictions are in place in hopes escapement will be met on the Chilkoot, but Bachman said, the run is looking stronger than projected.

“We’re right above average with approximately 6,200 through the weir at this time. So it’s about three times as good compared to where we were this time last year and well above the escapement during the parent year in 2009,” Bachman said.

The sockeye, like the chum are lunkers, too, said Bachman.

“The sockeye are also very large this year and probably pushing 7-and-a –half, 8 pounds when they’re usually 6 or 6-and-a-half,” Bachman said.
The run is also going strong this week – and fish and game announced Tuesday it is extending the opening this week by 24 hours.
While everything looks good for the fishing fleet, some warn it’s too early in the game to be overly optimistic. Texting from the fishing grounds, Captain Norm Hughes writes “When they say it’s going strong, that’s nice. But I need a whole month of strong to make my season.”

Photo:, Creative Commons License