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Chinook catch rules for gear groups announced

Daily News Staff Writer

As concern for the health of Southeast Alaska’s chinook salmon persists, the region’s fishermen continue to see smaller allocations.

The latest in the ongoing series of chinook restrictions came in the form of an Alaska Department of Fish and Game news release Tuesday. 2018’s region-wide, all-gear harvest limit was set for 130,000 treaty chinook, a 38 percent reduction from 2017’s preseason limit of 209,700.

The restrictions will most severely affect commercial trollers, the gear group that relies most heavily on chinook. This year’s limit for trollers is 95,700 treaty chinook, also down 38 percent from its 2017 limit.

The phrase “treaty chinook,” from Alaska’s perspective, refers to all chinook that are not produced by Alaska hatcheries. Those fish are subject to regulation under the Pacific Salmon Treaty, a U.S.-Canadian joint-management agreement.

The initial 2018 limit was calculated by the Pacific Salmon Commission, the group that manages the treaty. The commission based the limit on this year’s coastwide abundance index, a figure representing forecasted chinook abundance.

Fish and Game then reduced that initial limit by 10 percent for implementation in Alaska. It wrote in the release that its decision stemmed from concern for Southeast Alaska’s chinook stocks. (The region’s wild chinook population has incurred steady losses in the past few years, with a handful of stocks, including the stock originating in the Unuk River, being designated “stocks of management concern” by the department.)

“Chinook salmon stocks are experiencing unprecedented levels of poor production,” the release says. “Record low runs were observed for many of these stocks.”

The decision drew criticism from troll representatives. Alaska Trollers Association President Steve Merritt argued in an Wednesday press release that existing regulations had been sufficient to ensure the health of the stocks.

“ATA has always supported conservation measures that resulted in measurable savings to the stocks in need of help,” Merritt wrote. “... However, this 10 percent reduction goes beyond reason when considering the savings to those stocks already generated by the current conservation plans.”

Fish and Game closed the 2017-2018 winter troll fishery early, on March 15.

And this year’s spring troll fishery, currently set to run from May 1 to June 30, had already been subject to substantial restrictions. For example, in the Ketchikan area, the state’s 2018 Unuk River chinook action plan restricts chinook troll fishing to areas that the department believes will yield low returns of wild chinook, such as terminal harvest areas.

The summer troll season is less heavily restricted by comparison and is scheduled to begin July 1. It will target 70 percent of the remaining allocation in its first retention period. The second summer retention period, beginning in August, will target the remainder.

The department plans to release its 2018 Spring Troll Fishery Management Plan, containing more detailed information on the upcoming fishery, in coming weeks.