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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
Ketchikan’s salmon derby will be significantly modified this year, with the Ketchikan CHARR King Salmon Derby committee voting to hold a silver salmon derby instead. The decision comes amid widespread concerns about Southeast Alaska king salmon stocks, including those of the Unuk River near Ketchikan.
Low escapement levels for chinooks in recent years have led to other recent derby closures in the region. The Petersburg Chamber of Commerce announced the cancellation of its annual derby on Feb. 1, and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska recently cancelled its king salmon derby in the Juneau area for the second year in a row.
Ketchikan’s king salmon derby is a local staple, typically drawing 1,200–1,500 participants. 2018 would have been its 71st year.
Michael Briggs, coordinator of the Ketchikan CHARR King Salmon Derby, said in a CHARR press release that he hopes that the switch to silver salmon will be temporary.
“Obviously this is a community tradition going back decades,” Briggs said. “Rather than cancel the event altogether, the derby committee wanted to find a way to keep the tradition going while taking some of the pressure off the fish. We’re hopeful stocks will rebound in the next year or two, allowing us to resume the king derby.”
Apart from the change in species, the biggest change to the derby is timing. Rather than beginning at its traditional start date during the Memorial Day weekend, the 2018 derby will open on Aug. 18 and conclude on Sept. 3. As usual, it will run for three consecutive weekends.
The press release stated that ticket prices will likely remain at their existing rate, $35. Ticket sales benefit the CHARR Education Fund, which gives scholarships to local students.
In an interview Wednesday, Briggs expressed optimism about the silver salmon derby, mentioning that the derby’s first-place winner will still recieve $10,000.
“I still think it’s going to be a great community event, and there’s still going to be dynamite prizes,” Briggs said. “... I think in the end, we’re going to sell more tickets than we have in years past. But it remains to be seen.”
He noted that though silver salmon are smaller and vary less in size than kings, this factor could drive up competition for participants.
“With silvers, they’re so close in size that I think up until literally the very last minute, people will still have the opportunity to win this thing right up until the final bell,” he said. “It should make a pretty competitive derby.”
Jerry Kiffer, a longtime derby committee board member, said that he was unsure about whether a silver derby would draw as many participants as the king salmon derby has, and that this could have an adverse effect on the community.
“The entire community is involved,” he said. “The derby touches a huge portion of this community. To change it up like we’re considering, that’s a massive change.”
But Kiffer agreed that the change was necessary, given the severity of the issues facing the stocks.
“We just can’t put more pressure on the stock than what’s prudent,” he said. “And whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of king salmon taken as a direct result of the derby.”
The derby committee plans to publish more information regarding rule changes and prizes in June.