Hold your nets! Chilkat Inlet subsistence fishery delayed another week

The Chilkat River in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Dave Bezaire/Flickr Creative Commons)

Subsistence fishermen near Haines will have to wait another week to throw their nets into Chilkat Inlet. A need to conserve king salmon has prompted the second delay this season.

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The subsistence fishery in Chilkat Inlet usually opens in June, at the same time as the first commercial gillnet opening. But this year, concerns over historically low king salmon numbers delayed the start of subsistence fishing there until July 15.

Now, that date is being pushed off even further.

Mark Sogge manages the subsistence fishery for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Haines. He said Chinook are once again the reason for the delay.

“We’re getting a lot of mature king salmon in the fish wheels right now,” Sogge said. “In fact, like 65 percent of the entire run we’ve had through in the last week and a bit. We think that it’s quite likely that there are a lot of fish holding in Chilkat Inlet still. Given the fact that the run is as weak as it is, we want to assure that we get every fish that we can up.”

Sogge said the timing of the kings in the river was unexpected.

“It’s about a week late, we think, so far,” Sogge said. “The timing is off and so that pushes us back a week.”

Chilkat Inlet is now scheduled to open for subsistence fishing July 22. For the first week, until July 28, no fishing is allowed north of Letnikof Point.

There are a few other restrictions on the subsistence fishery to take into account this year.

A portion of the Chilkat River will be closed to fishing until July 31, up to mile 19 on the Haines Highway.

Mile 19 to the Wells Bridge is open. But that section of the river is closed Sunday through Tuesday until the end of July.

Subsistence fishing is also open on the Chilkoot side.

King salmon in the Chilkat River are facing about a 10-year downward trend. Last year marked the lowest escapement estimate in about 25 years. In 2017, the in-river run is forecasted to be just 634 mature fish.

Concerns over low numbers of kings have prompted changes across the board. Fish and Game placed extra restrictions on the commercial gillnet fleet. And sport fishing for Chinook near Haines and Skagway is nearly nonexistent this year.