State releases 2012 forecast for Taku River Chinook

For the sixth time in seven years, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is projecting a directed commercial fishery for Taku River King salmon in 2012.

The department says the number of Taku Chinook should be up from last season. The forecast calls for a summer run of about 48,000 Kings, with an allowable catch of about 6,700 for commercial fishermen in Alaska.

But fishery manager Kevin Monagle says projections don’t always turn into reality.

“In some cases we have had a number similar to this or maybe a little lower to go after, and we have decided to wait until we had in-season information and to make our management decisions based on that information alone, not the forecast,” says Monagle.

Case in point, in 2011 the forecast called for a run of about 41,000 Kings, with an allowable catch of about 1,500. But a directed fishery was not allowed once managers were able to collect in-season data.

Monagle says it can be a difficult fishery to forecast, because the Alaska catch is set according to a treaty with Canada, which shares the Taku with the United States. And Canada gets first crack at the fish.

“The first 5,000 fish surplus, Canada gets that and we get none of it,” says Monagle. “So, in recent years when you have very small surpluses to go after, if the forecast changes even a little bit – 2 to 4 percent – then that U.S. allowable catch goes away.”

Monagle says Canadian managers also regulate the Taku King fishery according to in-season data, and that biologists on both sides of the border are in regular communication before and after fishing starts.

May 1st is the first day a fishery is allowed to open in Alaska. Monagle says the department will release more information closer to that date.