Taku River chinook salmon are returning in alarmingly low numbers. Three Board of Fisheries proposals, each up for public comment, could affect who gets to catch the beleaguered kings and when.
The board will decide on the proposals at their Jan. 11-23 meeting in Sitka. Written and oral comments can be submitted until Dec. 28 and in person at the meeting.
“Southeast is a big meeting this year,” Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight said. A total of 205 total proposals affecting Southeast and Yakutat finfish and shellfish fisheries will be decided.
Two proposals aim to allow more king salmon up Taku River — and past fishermen — by limiting fishing even when king salmon are projected to fall within an acceptable range. A third proposal would cut off early season commercial troll fisheries in water bodies traversed by Taku River chinook.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulates Taku River king salmon on the basis of an “escapement” goal: the amount of fish they project need to make it upriver to spawn to keep population numbers healthy. Currently, that number is between 19,000 and 36,000 spawning chinook.
The two new proposals would limit king salmon fishing for both commercial and sport fishermen even if Fish and Game projects king salmon will meet escapement goals for the season. Escapement goals for Taku River chinook haven’t been met for two years, prompting Fish and Game to close sport fishing by emergency order in the Juneau area from April 15-June 15.
“Existing management strategy has failed to put adequate annual escapements into the Taku and Chilkat rivers,” wrote Mike Bethers, who submitted the proposals. “Years of fishing on escapement is to a large degree why these stocks are at all-time lows.”
Bethers’ solution is to divide the escapement range into thirds, allowing for different regulations under each third. If the number of returning chinook falls within the top third of the escapement goal, the proposal would limit fishing only moderately.
Regulations would be stricter in other thirds. If falling into the bottom third, for instance, sport fishing for king salmon in the Juneau area would be closed from April 15-June 15. The commercial troll fishery in Icy Straight, Chatham Straight and part of Lynn Canal would be closed, while drift net fishermen would be limited in some respects until June 30.
A third proposal seeks to align commercial trolling in northern Southeast with Juneau area sport fishing. Territorial Sportsmen, Inc., the Juneau-based group which operates the Golden North Salmon Derby, is seeking a regulation which would close troll fisheries in Icy Straight, Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal when early-season sport fishing was closed in Juneau.
Those troll fisheries, though not targeting king salmon, are “upstream in a sense” from Taku River, Territorial Sportsman, Inc. Vice President Matt Robus said. Even the incidental catch and release of king salmon in these fisheries could pose a problem in years where the Taku River king salmon stock has struggled.
“Every fish that’s taken when the stocks are so low that we haven’t made escapement for years in a row is important,” Robus said by phone Tuesday. “Our intent is to get every possible fish into those streams so the Taku stock has a chance at rebuilding.”
Anyone interested in commenting on the Board of Fisheries proposals can submit written or oral comments to the board. Written comments up to 100 pages can be submitted to ADF&G at P.O. box 115526 in Juneau, Alaska, 99811-5526, by fax at 465-6094.
Other notable proposals up for a vote at the January meeting include: a proposal to prohibit the use of all aircraft used to locate salmon or direct commercial fishing operations during open commercial fishing periods in Southeast Alaska; a proposal to increase the number of Dungeness pots commercial fishermen can use from 300 to 400; a separate proposal that would reduce the number from 300 to 240 and a proposal to establish a squid purse seine fishery.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.