Managers, stakeholders prep for another mixed salmon year

Fishery managers are preparing for the 2014 salmon runs, and forecasts call for a mixed outlook this summer.

On the Yukon River, another year of poor king salmon returns is expected and will likely mean more conservative management measures, while Bristol Bay fishers can expect similar management to 2013 with a forecast of 26.6 million sockeyes.

Southeast Alaska, however, is a bright spot, with a larger allotment of treaty-managed king salmon available than in past years.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientists talked to fishery stakeholders about the 2014 Yukon forecasts at a March 26 Yukon River Panel meeting in Anchorage.

ADFG is expecting a run of 153,446 kings on the Yukon, including 76,723 of Canadian-origin, or a range of between 64,000 and 121,000 kings.

The Yukon River Panel is an international body established by under the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada that meets to address conservation, management and harvest sharing of Canadian-origin salmon on the Yukon River.

It met for several days in Anchorage, including about two days open to the public.

In recent years, however, the actual run has come in far less than the forecast, and ADFG will take a precautionary approach in part as a result of that, according to ADFG’s Stephanie Schmidt, who presented the forecast.

Stakeholders asked several questions about the adjustments that have been attempted in an effort to fix the forecasts, but so far it doesn’t appear to have been corrected.

Management this summer will err on the conservative side — partially to account for that trend, and partially because the low return calls for it anyway, Schmidt said.

“We’re going to be very careful about what we see coming into the river,” she said.

The Canadian managers are also prepping for the expected low returns.

Yukon River Resource Manager Mary Ellen Jarvis told the panel that the Canadians are preparing for a small return, with harvest opportunity available primarily for subsistence users.

The bottom line is likely more restrictions to protect king salmon, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said that managers are preparing for the expected low king returns by working with area residents to talk about how they can harvest other fish to meet their needs.

Dipnets and beach seines will again be used this summer on the lower Yukon River, in Districts 1 and 2, until the end of the king run, at which time gillnets will be considered.

Schmidt said the department is also talking to users farther upriver, in Districts 3 and 4, about the potential for using dipnets to harvest chums.

That was generally considered a success on the lower river last summer, but hasn’t been tried upstream.

The focus this summer will be on targeting other species, such as chums, sheefish and whitefish, and leaving the kings in the water, Schmidt said.

Strong Southeast king forecast

The other king salmon managed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty are expected to come in stronger this summer.

ADFG announced April 1 that the fishers in Southeast Alaska will have an “all-gear” harvest of 439,000 treaty kings, more than double the 2013 allotment, and the greatest Southeast has seen since under recent iterations of the treaty.

The number is based on an abundance index developed in conjunction with Canadians under the treaty, and is the number of kings available to all users in Alaska waters.

In 2013, fishers had access to 176,000 kings under the treaty, and a total commercial harvest of 254,000 wild and hatchery kings. In 2012, 266,800 treaty kings were available to all gear types.

The 2014 allotment is the greatest all-gear allowable catch since the previous high of 416,400 fish in 2005, which was based on a prior version of the treaty that gave Alaska a larger proportion of the king harvest.

The all-gear kings are allocated between sport and commercial users, with trollers taking the largest share. The hatchery king harvest is mostly in addition to the all-gear figure.

The 2014 harvest quota means the following allocations in Southeast:

• Purse seine: 18,894 kings

• Drift gillnet: 12,743 kings

• Set gillnet: 1,000 kings

• Troll: 325,411 kings

• Sport: 81,353 kings

The sport portion of the quota means fishing regulations will be liberalized compared to last year. Beginning April 2, resident fishermen in Southeast and Yakutat have a bag and possession limit of three king salmon 28 inches or longer, while nonresidents are limited to one king of that size, with a second 28-inch or longer fish allowed in May and June. Nonresidents are also limited to six kings for the year.

Bristol Bay

The department also released its commercial outlook for the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery March 26. The expected return of 26.58 million sockeyes means a potential commercial harvest of 16.86 million fish, a slight increase from the 16.59 million forecast in 2013.

Last year, most Bristol Bay rivers came in below their forecasts, and the total commercial harvest was about 15.3 million sockeyes, more than a million fewer than the prediction.

The outlook calls for a run of about 10.5 million sockeyes in the Naknek/Kvichak District, and a harvest of about 5.48 million sockeyes there — a decrease from the 2013 prediction, but more than the actual harvest last year of about 4.79 million sockeyes.

The season will likely open for driftnet gear at Naknek/Kvichak June 1 and setnet openings beginning June 2 with four fishing periods per week for the first two weeks of June.

In the Egegik District, about 3.36 million sockeyes are expected to be available for harvest, down from the 4.7 million caught in 2013, and separate gear openings and extensions will be used.

For Nushagak, the available harvest is expected to be about 6.60 million fish, more than double the 2013 catch of 3.17 million sockeyes.

The Ugashik forecst is 1.81 million fish, with an expected potential harvest of about 0.89 million fish. That’s less than half of the 2013 harvest of 2.17 million sockeyes.

Updated: 
11/21/2016 - 9:15am