Haines gillnetting season bounces back with late surge of sockeye

Fishing vessels fuel up for the crab and shrimp openers at the Haines harbor (Corinne Smith/KHNS)

Haines commercial fishermen saw a much better salmon season this year than last, with a surprise late summer surge of sockeye up the Chilkat Inlet.

Marty Smith mans the harbor crane, maneuvering gear onto the back of his pickup as he wraps up a summer season of gillnet salmon fishing.

“It was a little better than last year,” Smith said. “But the bar was so low last year that I hope we never see that again. Thankfully, we had some decent prices, so a guy could make a living.”

Last year, Haines gillnetters struggled with weak returns and low prices along with pandemic-related supply chain issues.

Smith says the restrictions are difficult, but the prices and harvest have bounced back.

“Mostly I was fishing dogs and chum and then sockeye. I didn’t get into the fall fisheries too much. And the late shot of sockeye really helped,” Smith said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Nicole Zeiser manages the region’s commercial gillnet and shrimp fisheries. She says improvements were seen over last year, especially a late summer run of Chilkoot River sockeye salmon.

“The return was well above average this year,” Zeiser said. “Out of the blue, it was almost like a second run showed up. But you know, we can’t really verify that. It’s basically just a whole new surge of fish came through the Chilkoot River weir.”

She says sockeye escapement estimates exceeded sustainable escapement goals at 98,672, but she said that shouldn’t have any detrimental impacts to long term salmon returns.

Zeiser also noted that for the second year, Chilkat River sockeye returns were below escapement goals.

“There really wasn’t a reason to believe that, you know, it would have been a really well below average return. So that’s kind of an unknown thing. We just we don’t really know what what’s happening to Chilkat sockeye salmon stocks,” she said.

The District 15 gillnet fishery is open for one more week, until Oct. 6. And Zeiser says that because the commercial fishery is open, the subsistence fisheries at the Chilkat River and Chilkat Inlet have also been extended through that same period.

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