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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
Following low forecasts for wild king salmon returns to Southeast Alaska rivers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in March announced that all the inside waters of Southeast Alaska would be closed to retaining kings while sport fishing from April 1 through June 14.
Now that the season has been open for two weeks, it’s possible to get a sense of how things are looking for sport fishermen in this critical year for king salmon. But closures and lower king salmon populations have impacted various stakeholders differently, and the long-term effects of these factors are not yet clear.
Fish and Game Ketchikan Area Manager Kelly Reppert said that she’s received varied reports from local fishermen since the opening two weeks ago.
“With regards to anecdotal reports coming through the office, I’d say it’s been mixed,” Reppert said. “Anglers are finding fish one day and not the next.”
According to Reppert, in the second half of June, harvest levels were about 20 percent lower than the past five-year average for the same time period. She added that lower abundance is likely responsible for the limited harvest, as fishing effort remains roughly in line with that of previous years.
Bill Pattison operates a small charter business, North End Charters, out of Knudson Cove. He said that he’s been getting more customers now that king salmon retention is allowed, but that his customers, most of whom come from cruise ships, didn’t mind catch-and-release fishing either.
“I think it was harder on the charter captains and on the residents, because they couldn’t go out and bring one home,” Pattison said. “But as far as the tourists went, off the ships, I only remember ever hearing of a couple that complained about it.”
Nadra Angerman, who co-owns Chinook Shores Resort, said that her business was able to prosper through June in spite of the regulations. She attributed the business’ resilience to its diversity of features, noting that while it offers self-guided sport fishing boats, the fishing isn’t their only draw.
“The people that come to our lodge like to catch salmon,” Angerman said. “They take our boats out, they stay in our houses. But they also come for so much more that Ketchikan has to offer. Whale watching, for example. And the eagles they go crazy about. … While it is disappointing that that happened, to our business it really didn’t have an effect.”
But the operators of lodges with a stronger focus on sport fishing have expressed more concern. Russell Thomas, who manages three local lodges for Alaska Sportfishing Expeditions, said that while the company’s sales are on track, revenue from processing fish has come up short as a result of limited king fishing.
“I think it’s mostly related to kings,” he said. “Our processing revenue is down about 30 percent. And I would attribute most of that to kings.”
Thomas added that continued closures and minimal fishing could lead to problems attracting guests in the future.
“Some of these regulations, you don’t see the effects of them this year — you see them next year,” he said. “… [That makes] the selling more difficult. When they come and they catch fish and they get to keep some nice fish and put them in their freezer and then enjoy them with their family and friends, then it makes selling a subsequent year a lot easier, obviously.”
Southeast Alaska Guides Organization Executive Director Samantha Weinstein expressed similar concern.
“For new visitors to Alaska, it still provides a really exciting opportunity to get out and just throw their line in the water and see what happens,” she said. “It’s bookings for next year and maintaining Ketchikan’s status as the king salmon capital and promoting people coming in and bringing money into our economy with everything that’s going on right now. Where once you had people not thinking twice about not booking for next year, now people who are repeat visitors to Alaska are now very curious to know what the regulations are going to be next year.”