The F/V Resource pulls salmon up in a gillnet during a summer opener. (Berett Wilber)

The commercial fishing season is right around the corner for gillnetters in Southeast Alaska. Starting June 16th, the Haines fleet will make its way down the Lynn Canal to target hatchery chum salmon.

Out on the docks, Haines fishermen are getting ready for the upcoming season. Some boats are getting new paint, if they’re lucky maybe a new engine or reel. Haines gillnetter Steve Fossman is sorting out a few odds and ends on his boat. 

“Everything has been going pretty good,” Fossman says. “You just kind of do a little maintenance and see if you got all of the things you need on board. Kind of try to pick one or two priorities a year to fix. You can’t fix everything at once. More time you spend on it more things you find wrong.”

Fossman mostly targets hatchery chum salmon returning to the Lynn Canal.

In some ways, things are looking good for him. Last year had a strong return of hatchery chum to the Lynn Canal and there is a forecast of 18.1 million for the Southeast region in 2019.  

“Hopefully the whole fleet of Southeast doesn’t show up here. Not the whole fleet, but a huge portion of it has been showing up here.”

He says that the biggest challenge this year will be finding room to fish given the limited space and time frame.

“We’re looking at a lot of restrictions this year. I think the fleets biggest challenge is whether they can catch the chums in the time and area they have before they can slip through.”

Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s management plan for the Lynn Canal calls for night closures and mesh size restrictions through July 13th. In addition, the area where fishermen target hatchery chums will be reduced for much of the run and some areas will be open fewer days of the week.

This has some people concerned.

At a Haines borough assembly meeting last week, Haines resident Bill Thomas said the restrictions would reduce fishermen’s income.

“Do something. You know, 30 percent of the income of the fishermen—it was 6 million dollars last year this year it will be down to 4.2. A lot of them will have to leave Haines to go fishing. I know they’re gearing up now to go to—I don’t know if it’s Wrangell,” Thomas said. 

The restrictions on commercial fishing are related to concerns about Chilkat King salmon.

Last year the Chilkat King was designated as a stock of concern at the 2018 Board of Fish meeting after failing to achieve escapement goals for multiple years. Only about 900 kings returned to the Chilkat River in 2018.

Fossman says he hopes that stricter management of the commercial fishery over the last few years is at least helping the kings.

“I guess if you’re looking at taking care of the King Salmon you have to do something,” Fossman says. “The point is maybe something could’ve been done a little sooner. That’s all hindsight.”

The preseason forecast for Chilkat River Kings is projected to be below the minimum in-river escapement goal range. For this reason, Fish and Game has closed sport fishing for kings in Chilkat Inlet through June 30. Any kings caught after that date must be returned to the water unharmed.