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Kings off limits starting Thursday: ADF&G cites low chinook salmon stocks coastwide

Daily News Staff Writer

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday will shut down commercial and salt-water sport chinook salmon fishing throughout Southeast Alaska.

 “Extreme management measures” are needed to protect kings originating from Southeast Alaska, Northern British Columbia, the Fraser River of British Columbia and the coast of Washington state, according to an announcement made late Monday by Fish and Game.

The regionwide commercial and sport chinook closures are effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday and will last at least through Sept. 30, according to the department.

“We didn’t miss fish,” Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Charles Swanton said late Monday of fishing efforts in the region. “The fish just aren’t there.”

Following poor preseason chinook forecasts, inseason fish data from Fish and Game, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration, and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans suggest that the deficient king numbers could last through 2018 or later, granted the various ages of kings now in the water.

 “We were pretty much compelled from a conservation standpoint,” Swanton said, “to try and address this as fast as we could, as soon as we possibly could, which is now.”

He said the related commercial and sport chinook fishing closures will last at least through September, with internal discussions occurring in regard to what to do and how during the next eight to 10 months in terms of further restrictions.

Swanton said the state will keep “an eye toward doing whatever we possibly can to provide (fishing) opportunity, both commercial, as well as recreational, but not put any sort of jeopardy on the Southeast Alaska stocks, whether they be the transboundary rivers — (the) Taku and Stikine (rivers) being the primaries — as well as others.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 31,000 non-Alaska hatchery, Pacific Salmon Treaty chinook remained from the 2017 commercial troll gear allocation for the region.

Those fish would have been catchable during a second summer troll fishery opening in mid-August, but the fishery now will remain closed for the remainder of the season, including at all regional terminal harvest areas effective 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, according to Sitka-based Fish and Game Troll Management Biologist Grant Hagerman.

“As dire as things look for the remainder of this year, and even for 2018 and 2019, you know,” Hagerman said late Monday, “it was just a call to make to try to preserve those stocks for the future.”

“The closure here is just for this (summer) season,” he added, “but ... production looks very low, and with king salmon, you have certain year classes that, if they look low now, you’re looking possibility at consequences over the next couple of years.”

Southeast commercial trollers will still be able to target coho salmon, a fishery that will remain open until further notice, Hagerman said.

Although salt-water sport chinook fishing will be closed as of Thursday, chinook can still be retained in freshwater rivers and streams. Other restrictions apply. For more information, contact Fish and Game or visit adfg.alaska.gov.