Staggeringly low forecasts for king salmon in the Stikine

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game expects considerably lower numbers of Chinook salmon for the Stikine and Taku Rivers.

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The department forecasts there will be less than 7,000 Chinook salmon making it back to spawn in the Stikine River near Wrangell next year and just 5,000 in the Taku River near Juneau. Neither pre-season terminal run number provides an allowable catch for U.S. or Canadian fisheries. For the Taku, the amount is four times less than the department’s minimum goal range for kings returning to river.

“I believe these are the poorest forecast numbers we’ve ever come up with for these rivers,”  Dave Harris, Juneau area manager for Fish and Game, said.

These numbers are 60 percent lower than last year’s forecasts, which still weren’t that high.

The forecasts mean little chance of early season commercial gillnetting or trolling to target those king salmon. Those fisheries, when they’re open, are typically in May. But low numbers could have broader impact on both sport and commercial fishing.

“There’s going be some quite draconian restrictions, at least the gillnetters, and I believe the recreational fisheries the troll fisheries the seine fisheries,” Harris said. “Basically all the fisheries that target salmon will have some form of restriction or another to minimize their impact on this species.”

Harris expects gear, retention, time and area restrictions.

Managers aren’t for certain what’s happening to the salmon. Harris says the freshwater life of the salmon is just fine. The ocean is where salmon aren’t surviving.

“Ocean climate, if you will, has affected the ability of the production of the food that the fish rely on,” Harris said. “Or it could also have brought in sweeps of predators like increased shark numbers or something that might be feeding on the salmon.”

Historically low returns of kings to rivers in Southeast Alaska last year prompted an unprecedented region-wide Chinook closure for both commercial and sport fisheries. The state’s Board of Fish will be addressing management of Southeast king salmon at a meeting in January in Sitka.