The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last week announced that its 2023-2024 regulations for state-licensed sport fishermen catching king salmon in the Ketchikan area could change in early April when the Pacific Salmon Commission adopts a new method for setting Alaska's king (chinook) salmon catch limits.
As Fish and Game awaits PSC's new catch limits, the department announced that resident anglers' regionwide daily bag and possession limit is two king salmon, and the nonresident bag and possession limit is one king salmon, effective March 10. A patchwork of king salmon regulations also applies to specific waters surrounding Ketchikan that are also subject to change when the commission updates its catch limits for all of Southeast Alaska.
Last month, Fish and Game announced that the Pacific Salmon Commission will employ "a new method for setting the annual king salmon catch limit for Southeast Alaska" and that the king salmon catch limit for the region will not be known until early April.
PSC is the body that implements the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty and regulates fishing for migratory king salmon populations along the west coast of both countries. The commission allocates king salmon catch between the U.S. and Canada, and the Alaska Board of Fisheries approves management plans to split Alaska's catch between different gear types and user groups.
Dani Evenson, who works as a fishery scientist for Fish and Game's Department of Commercial Fisheries, told the Daily News that PSC's new method for setting catch limits will combine annual data showing the effort and harvest of king salmon by the winter power troll fishery in the Sitka Sound area (District 113) with the king salmon abundance model that the commission usually uses.
Evenson said that combining this harvest data with the commission's model will be "really robust." The new model will incorporate District 113 data because Sitka-area trollers catch the majority of winter kings—72% of the overall Southeast Alaska catch for the 2022-2023 winter season so far.
The commission announced on Feb. 16 that it will also expand its seven "abundance tiers" that determine catch limits to include 17 tiers that will effect more sensitive management.
"The distance between those tiers was so large it would be like 60,000 to 65,000 fish," Evenson said. "If you were over tier in a post-season analysis, you were over by a lot. So, we're trying to avoid that."
Evenson said that the commission's abundance estimates and catch limits will have "more accuracy and precisions" as the commission incorporates winter troll fishery data and adopts a new tier structure.
Fish and Game said in a February announcement that it will release updated catch limits for Alaska sport fishermen targeting migrating kings sometime after April 1, once the Pacific Salmon Commission sets new catch limits using the new method.
While the department awaits new catch limits, temporary sport fishing regulations determined through the commission's old regime will be in place.
The department last week announced some harvest opportunities that will not change, such as regulations for fishermen targeting king salmon as they return to the hatcheries where they originated. The Pacific Salmon Commission does not determine catch limits for hatchery fish.
These specific local hatchery areas will see a daily catch limit of one king salmon for all fishermen, as well as an annual catch limit of three kings for non-residents during specific date ranges:
• Thomas Basin area seaward of the Stedman Street bridge to the breakwater and the Carroll Inlet area north of Nigelius Point, which are open from June 1 through June 14.
• The Mountain Point Area, which includes Caroll Inlet south of Nigelius Point as well as George Inlet, and is open under the same restrictions from June 8 through June 14.
• The Neets Bay area east of Bug Island will be open June 15 through Aug. 14 with the same daily bag limit of one king salmon for residents and an annual limit of three kings for non-residents.
All sport fishermen in the Herring Bay hatchery area will see a daily catch and possession limit of three king salmon from June 1 through July 31, 2023, the department announced. The nonresident annual limit does not apply in this area during this time.
Fish and Game last week wrote that "Projected returns to these facilities will exceed broodstock needs, thus a surplus of hatchery fish is available for harvest by sport anglers."
The department cautioned that when "special regulations for these hatchery areas expire, anglers may continue to fish under the regional king salmon bag, possession, and annual limits. ... anglers fishing in multiple areas must be diligent to ensure they do not exceed the bag, possession, or size limit for the area they are currently fishing."
All king salmon caught in all areas at all times must be at least 28 inches long in order to be legally retained.