King salmon trollers to have lower harvests this year

King salmon fishermen in Southeast Alaska will see a significant reduction in their harvest this season.

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced on Monday that trollers will be allowed over 100,000 fewer fish than last year, under management guidelines negotiated under the Pacific Salmon Commission.

And it’s unlikely that trollers will be able to make up the difference in their fallback species — chum — if forecasts prove correct.

Trollers were clearly discouraged by the announcement, but it was not unexpected. King salmon, or chinook, are not returning to their home rivers in Southeast to spawn in sufficient numbers. Four of the region’s six major chinook-producing rivers are forecast to fall at-or-below escapement goals this summer, continuing a downward trend that began in 2012.

King salmon trolling is divided into three seasons: spring, summer and winter. With only 155,000 kings to catch over the entire year, Southeast trollers could have an especially short summer season.

Grant Hagerman is the regional troll fish biologist for ADF&G.

“Well, a lot of it depends on where we’re at after winter and spring closes, if we carry tens of thousands of extra fish in, but yeah, we could be looking at somewhere less than five days,” Hagerman said.

Summer king trolling opens on July 1, and sees around 900 boats on the water. Last year, summer kings averaged about 12 pounds dressed, and brought in an average of $5.10 per pound.

Managers try to limit trollers to about 70 percent of the summer harvest in that first opener. Sitka-based troller Eric Jordan has co-authored a proposal to the Alaska Board of Fisheries to further restrict the July king harvest to 60 percent. Jordan’s hope is to see better value on the kings caught later in the summer.

“The fish are worth more, they’re bigger, and the catch rates are less in August, so please, do not end up catching the whole quota in the first few days of July,” Jordan said.

Winter king trollers get the best value for their harvest. As of April 10, trollers had landed almost 20,000 kings — about half of them in Sitka. The price for winter kings hit $10 per pound in January, and has remained high. Managers expect the strong harvest to continue through the end of April, when trollers will have landed about 45,000 Chinook.