After just eight days in early July, the summer king salmon season for Southeast trollers is over.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced Friday that there will be no second king opening in August. It will be only the third summer in fifteen years without an August opening.
The announcement ends a season that has been the subject of unusual controversy between Alaska its neighbors to the south, all of whom fish under the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. Alaska argued that the preseason forecast vastly underestimated the amount of kings returning this year and asked for the right to catch more fish. But the state gave in under pressure from Washington, Oregon, and the federal government and agreed to abide by the lower estimate.
In the end, however, the fleet caught more fish — and faster — than would be expected under that lower number.
Given the preseason forecast, managers would have expected the fleet to catch about 7,000 to 9,000 kings per day, said Fish & Game biologist Pattie Skannes. But the fleet actually caught about 20,000 fish per day in July, for a total of more than 150,000 Chinook.
That maxes out this year’s harvest limit.
“It’s higher than what we anticipated,” Skannes said. “We went into the opening expecting that abundance would be down from last year, certainly…And obviously once people got out and fished, they found the abundance was actually quite good. So, the total harvest is a surprise. It’s higher than what we expected.”
But Dale Kelley, of the Alaska Trollers Association, said this result is actually precisely what the state and trollers predicted.
“I’m not at all surprised that we took that many fish in eight days,” Kelley said. “We’ve been saying and saying and saying again that there’s a massive abundance of fish out there, and that the quota was inappropriately low.”
The Department usually tries to reserve about 30-percent of the catch for August. Kelley said the lack of a second opening will affect fishermen and processors who usually deliver to fresh markets in August — or anyone who missed out in July.
“Heaven forbid you’re somebody that had a mechanical breakdown or a family emergency during the first opening because there’s not any other opportunity for kings until October,” Kelley said. “And kings are big money for us.”
Many trollers are now targeting coho or chum salmon, which bring in significantly less per pound.
Altogether, Fish & Game estimates that about 730 boats fished the July king opening, down from more than 800 boats last year. The price this year is relatively low. At less than $3 per pound, it’s almost a dollar below the five-year average. That may be because there is still inventory left over from last year’s monster summer run.
All numbers so far are preliminary. Fish & Game is still receiving fish tickets, and won’t have final numbers for about another week.