Forecast for Taku king salmon at historic low

King salmon at a market in Seattle.
King salmon at a market in Seattle. (Creative Commons photo by Jill /Blue Moonbeam Studio)

Historically low king salmon forecasts for two Southeast rivers mean there will likely be no commercial openings next year for the Taku and Stikine rivers.

Area management biologist Dave Harris in Juneau predicted the low numbers would require extra restrictions on sport fishing and troll fisheries for a second year in a row.

“This is the lowest forecast that we’ve ever produced for the Taku as well as the Stikine,” he said. “Last year the returns were one of the lowest that we’ve ever seen since the 1970s when we started monitoring these stocks.”

The Taku River’s pre-season terminal run is forecast at 4,700 fish. The state requires at least 19,000 fish for a healthy fishery. The international salmon treaty with Canada requires management restrictions on these rivers which flow across the international boundary.

Low returns of king salmon last year prevented Fish and Game from opening the commercial fishery this year. Sport fishing for kings was also closed for two months in the spring that canceled Juneau’s 20th annual Spring King Salmon Derby.

It’s unclear why king salmon numbers are so low. Harris said biologists suspect it’s related to unseasonably warm water in the Pacific where salmon spend years feeding before returning to spawn in freshwater.

“Whether it’s affecting the food sources for the fish, or it’s brought in a different predator field, we’re not sure what exactly is occurring out there but it’s likely because of those water temperature changes that it’s affecting some part of their life cycle out there.”

The forecast was also low for the Stikine near Wrangell. It’s 6,900 king salmon forecast. The state requires a minimum of 14,000 fish.

These forecasts are for king salmon, also known as Chinook. Other salmon species including sockeye, coho and chum are managed separately.

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