A troller battles some weather on the Outer Coast. (Berett Wilber)

The Department of Fish and and Game (ADF&G) announced this week that the winter king fishery will continue as usual — for now.

The fishery has seen slow catch rates and low effort, according to Rhea Ursman, Assistant management biologist for Southeast troll fisheries. Around 6,600 Chinook have been caught since early October.

ADF&G tentatively plans to keep the fishery open until mid-march. Though fishermen met the harvest limit early in 2015 and 2016, it seems unlikely fishermen will reach the goal of 45,000 fish this year, Ursman says.

That could change after January when the Board of Fish is set to meet.Tasked with setting management plans for Alaska state fisheries, the Board could revise guidelines for Southeast Chinook and decide to end winter king season early.No matter how long trollers can fish, Southeast’s king salmon will be on the agenda for the Board. 2017 and 2018 forecasts represent some of the poorest Chinook returns to Southeast rivers in more than 25 years, which has managers — and fishermen — concerned.

That’s according to Brian Elliott, ADF&G’s Assistant Area Manager for Haines, who says mortality at sea is keeping kings from coming back in reassuring numbers. Even with unusual restrictions on commercial and subsistence fishermen earlier this the summer, returns were so low that the Department issued an emergency order in August, to stop all harvesting of Chinook region-wide.

Forecasts for kings in 2018 look equally grim. According to Elliott, ADF&G is again predicting barrel-scraping returns for Chinook stocks from the Chilkat, Unuk, Taku, and Situk Rivers.

The official closure for winter kings will be announced after the Board meets January 11 – 23rd in Sitka.