Strong king numbers outside Sitka boost winter troll catch

(Photo courtesy KFSK)
(Photo courtesy KFSK)

Southeast Alaska king salmon trollers are having a strong winter season, thanks to good catches on the outer coast outside of Sitka.

The winter season started Oct. 11 and the catch of Chinook had topped 24,000 fish by the second week in January. Grant Hagerman, Fish and Game’s assistant troll biologist for Southeast, said the catch is almost double last year’s total at the same time. “Looking back it’s the highest fall catch we’ve seen for 20 years, basically, since the 93-94 winter season, so it’s pretty significant,” he said.

Typically the biggest catches in the winter come from around Sitka, Yakutat and near Petersburg. Hagerman said this year’s catches near Yakutat and Petersburg are pretty similar to those from recent years but the catches near Sitka have been unusually strong. In fact, the Sitka landings are nearly 80 percent of the winter season catch so far, or nearly 19,000 of the 24,000 total.

“You know there’s obviously a large abundance of fish on the outer coast here but I think talking to some of the Sitka trollers it sounds like there’s just been kind of increased opportunity or availability of fish,” Hagerman said.

A big part of the catch came in the early season, October and November. However, Hagerman said strong catches near Sitka continued into December as well, which is not typical. The dock price for troll caught kings averaged more than $6 a pound in the early season but it’s been climbing. “You know we did set a record this fall,” Hagerman said. “It’s the first time in the history of the winter the average prices have gone over $10 a pound before the new year. You know typically in the winter, we have building prices through about Valentine’s Day. So it could be these prices continue up into the $11-12 range. So we’ll kinda see what happens.”

The catch includes five percent Alaska hatchery fish, or about 1,100. That’s normally a higher percentage of the catch. Most of the fish caught are destined for rivers in Washington and Oregon.

The season is open until April 30 or until the catch of kings, not counting Alaska hatchery produced Chinook, hits 45,000.

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