The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced on Monday that the commercial winter troll fishery for chinook (king) salmon will remain open in coastal waters of Prince of Wales Island, Baranof Island and Yakutat through Saturday, Apr. 15, or until troll fishermen's catch reaches the guideline harvest level.
Most areas of the winter troll fishery, including inside waters, will be closed after Wednesday, Mar. 15. The winter fishery targets wild chinook that migrate along the west coast of the United States and Canada, many of which do not originate in Alaska rivers; fishing for these "treaty chinook" is regulated by the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Winter troll fishermen this year can take up to 45,000 non-Alaska hatchery produced salmon. According to Fish and Game data accessed Mar. 10, trollers so far have landed a total of 13,243 chinook salmon over 22 weeks of the winter fishery.
King salmon caught this year average 10.7 pounds and fishermen are earning an average of $9.76 per pound, according to Fish and Game.
Fish and Game reported that last year, the winter troll fishery harvested 28,280 fish, and 8% of those fish came from Alaska hatcheries. A recent 5-year troll fishery average shows that a mean of 19,821 fish were harvested each year and that 9% came from Alaska hatcheries.
A Fish and Game report from 2014 notes that "since 1985, winter troll Chinook salmon harvests have ranged from 9,401 in 1996 to 71,831 in 1992."
This year's winter troll fishery extension mimics the Apr. 3-Apr. 30 opportunity that Fish and Game opened for trollers at the end of their the winter 2022 season, but excludes the Cross Sound, Lisianski Inlet and Lisianski Strait areas.
In 2018, the end date for winter trolling was cut back to March 15 in order to conserve salmon returning to major river systems in Southeast Alaska, such as the Unuk River.
This year's Apr. 15 fishery extension in some coastal waters stems from a "chinook action plan" adopted by the Alaska Board of Fisheries during its 2022 meeting in Anchorage, according to Fish and Game
Fish and Game wrote that during the Board of Fish meeting last year, "action plans were adopted giving the department direction ... to identify and implement actions that provide conservation for Southeast Alaska/Yakutat (SEAK) and Transboundary River (TBR) wild Chinook salmon stocks while continuing to identify harvest opportunities that maintain conservation of these stocks."
According to Fish and Game, "the harvest proportions of wild SEAK and TBR stocks seen in fisheries operating on the outside waters of Southeast Alaska continue to remain low due to the abundance of non-Alaska stocks prevalent in these areas."
"In contrast, the proportions of wild SEAK and TBR stocks encountered in fisheries operating on the inside waters of Southeast Alaska are of continued concern. Accordingly, the late winter troll fishery will be extended only in waters along the outer coast to harvest the remainder of the winter Chinook salmon GHL," according to the department.
Waters east of the winter boundary line that are open for trolling after Mar. 15 include an area near Yakutat spanning from Point Manby to Ocean Cape, the west coast of Baranof Island from Point Theodore to Cape Ommaney, and an area that stretches south of Kuiu Island and includes the northwest coast of Prince of Wales Island and the west coast of Dall Island down to the southernmost Cape Muzon.
Fish and Game data from this year's winter troll fishery as of Mar. 10 shows that fishermen in the Sitka-area District 113 have landed 9,394 chinook, or 70.9% of the total region harvest to date. 78 permit holders contributed to the major catch in the district near Sitka that will remain open until Apr. 15.
Trollers in Yakutat-area District 183, which also will remain open until Apr. 15, are second to Sitka trollers in king landings this winter with 1,110 chinook caught between 18 permit holders so far, making up 8.4% of regional harvest.
Five permit holders fishing in Ketchikan-area District 101 caught just 54 kings this winter, totaling 0.4% of the region's harvest. Seven permit holders have landed 109 chinook in District 104 which spans the west coast of Dall Island.