Dismal outlook for Stikine, Taku king salmon continues in 2019

Poor king salmon runs predicted for the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska are prompting “extreme conservation” measures, likely resulting in less fishing time for commercial and recreational fishermen.

The Stikine is expected to see a terminal run of 8,250 large fish, while the Taku is expected to see a run of 9,050 large fish, according to the forecast published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Nov. 30.

Neither run is large enough to meet the allowable catch by the U.S. or Canada and both are less than the lower end of the escapement goal ranges. On the Stikine, the escapement goal range is 14,000 to 28,000 large fish; on the Taku, it’s 19,000 to 36,000 fish.

ADFG allowed a commercial opening in 2016 on the Stikine after years of struggling runs, held in May. The 2017 season brought restrictions but no full closures for sport fishing on the Stikine. The 2018 forecast again came out poor with no king salmon fishing allowed on either the Stikine or the Taku for kings.

The Taku River king run has been struggling for years, hitting its record low in 2016. It was closed to directed fisheries from 1974-2004, until larger runs prompted openings in 2005, according to ADFG. Recent years have brought more low runs, leading to restrictions and closures for king salmon fishing across Southeast Alaska.

ADFG managers could not be reached for comment as of deadline.

The Taku and Stikine are two of the 12 “indicator” stocks listed by ADFG, or king salmon runs the department watches to track the regional health of king salmon runs in Alaska. The indicator stock project began as part of the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, a massive statewide project that arose under Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration following major declines in king salmon returns starting around 2007.

The program’s funding was eliminated as the state budget was cut since oil prices started falling in 2014.

Both the Stikine and Taku are transboundary rivers, which begin in Canada and pass through Southeast Alaska on their way to the ocean. As such, their salmon runs are subject to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, negotiated between the U.S. and Canada. The fisheries are managed by abundance rather than by hard caps, allowing the managers to adjust for the size of the run.

The two countries reached an agreement for another 10-year extension of the treaty Sept. 18, depending on both fleets allowing more king salmon through to Canada: a 7.5 percent reduction for Alaska and a 12.5 percent reduction for Canada. The final agreement was sent to both governments for final approval.

Southeast Alaska fishermen have had several tough salmon seasons in a row. Record low abundances of king salmon led to early closures in 2017 and restrictions and poor fishing in 2018.

On top of that, Southeast fishermen have had three poor pink salmon harvests in a row — 2016 brought disastrously low returns and 2017 was an off year with lower numbers. This summer, however, was even worse than 2016.

Significantly less than preseason forecasts, the pink salmon harvest was the lowest in decades. The upcoming 2019 season is predicted to be a weak run as well, in part based on low numbers of juveniles in 2018 connected to poor survival among the 2017 brood year.

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
12/12/2018 - 12:11pm

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