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Impact on spring troll anticipated

Daily News Staff Writer

Regulations for the Ketchikan area’s commercial chinook salmon fishery could continue to tighten in 2018.

In this month’s meeting, the Alaska Board of Fisheries will consider action plans for commercial troll fisheries.

The action plans include what are among the most serious chinook restrictions the region has seen according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Troll Fishery Biologist Grant Hagerman. Proposed regulations for the spring troll fishery, which takes place in May and June, are particularly tough.

The proposed options for the Ketchikan area are based on concerns for the stock of chinook that will be traveling to the Unuk River in the spring. The department’s 2018 chinook run forecasts were extremely low for several Southeast Alaska rivers, including the Unuk.

As it has done for the chinook sport fishery, the Department of Fish and Game has drafted a number of commercial action plans for the rivers, which are intended to provide options for the board in its regulatory process. The board can modify the plans during the meeting.

The Unuk spring troll fishery has been restricted since 2014. According to Hagerman, the Ketchikan area’s spring fishery has the potential to affect the Unuk river stock because of its proximity to the path of the fish returning to the river.

“The encounters are much higher with those wild fish at that time of the year,” Hagerman said. “They are migrating back through that corridor back into the Unuk, and so they run right through those spring troll fisheries.”

The draft action plan for the Unuk River contains three options regarding management of the commercial troll fishery in the Ketchikan area.

Option A — Status Quo

While Option A would mean keeping things the same as they were in 2017, regulations would still be substantial.

But, according to Hagerman, 2017’s heavy restrictions didn’t prove to be enough to improve chinook stocks.

“Even with that restriction — basically having the trollers off the water for the month of June — we still failed to meet escapements for the Unuk,” he said.

The Fish and Game document summarizes the regulations for Option A as including:

• “Continued closure of West Behm Canal, Point Alava, Clarence Strait, and a portion of former Ketchikan (Gravina Shoreline) area for duration of spring.”

• “Kendrick Bay reduced opening lengths to maximum of three days/week through [the week of May 20].”

• “Stone Rock Bay reduced to one day/week through [the week of May 20].”

• “Mountain Point reduced to four days/week [for the week of April 29 through the week of May 20], and reduced area open beginning June 15.”

• “Ketchikan Area reduced to three days/week [for the week of April 29 through the week of May 20].”

• “With exception of Mountain Point, all spring fisheries located in Districts 1 and 2 closed [from May 29 to June 30].”

Option B

Option B dials the fishery back to Terminal Harvest Areas (defined by Fish and Game as “an area where fishermen … may harvest segregated hatchery returns”), areas near hatcheries and release sites, and areas that they’ve identified as having particularly low levels of wild salmon. The thought behind limiting fishing to THAs is that it would protect wild salmon, like those of the Unuk, because they tend to stay out of these areas.

Neets Bay, Whitman Lake and Herring Cove are examples of local THAs that would remain open in the spring under Option B.

Option C

This most severe option would close the spring troll fishery altogether, including THAs.

“That’s just basically closing regional fisheries,” Hagerman said. “Pretty draconian, but where we are with these forecasts and poor survival, it’s definitely an option.”

As far as which option, if any, the board will favor, Hagerman says it’s hard to know. For one, the process is allocative, meaning that what the board comes up with will depend on its decisions for other rivers, other gear groups, and for sport and subsistence fishing. The board also takes public comments into consideration.

Fish and Game is encouraging the public to review the draft plans and provide feedback to the department in anticipation of the Board of Fisheries meeting. The draft action plans can be found on the Department of Fish and Game website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.

While the deadline for submitting public comments regarding this issue has passed, comments can be faxed, mailed in or submitted in person at the meeting in Sitka. Fax numbers and mailing information are also available on the Fish and Game website. Comments are limited to 10 single-sided pages, and five single-sided pages after the start of deliberations.

The meeting begins on Thursday at Sitka’s Centennial Hall.