Low silver returns to Seward in 2016 mean fewer to stock in 2018

The coho salmon returns to Seward may be slow next year, though Homer may see a boost in returns to the fishing lagoon on the Homer Spit.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2018 Sport Fish Stocking Plan details a plan to release about 240,000 coho smolt into the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, a saltwater fishing lagoon on the Homer Spit. That’s about double the amount stocked there last year — about 135,000 coho smolt were stocked there in 2017 and about 120,000 are planned to be stocked there in future years.

Meanwhile, Resurrection Bay will only get about a third of the coho smolt that are usually stocked there. The stocking plan calls for 60,000 smolt to be stocked there, about a quarter of the more than 264,000 smolt stocked there in 2017.

The main reason for that is that not enough coho returned to Resurrection Bay in 2016 for the egg collectors to meet their egg-take goal, according to the stocking plan.

Coho salmon, or silvers, are one of the most popular sport fish in Alaska. Every August in Seward, thousands of people take to the water to fish for them and participate in the city’s annual Silver Salmon Derby, the oldest in the state. In 2016, derby organizers fretted leading up to the event because the salmon just weren’t showing up.

“Resurrection Bay drainages produce large numbers of coho salmon and support one of the largest saltwater coho salmon sport fisheries in the state,” the plan states. “However, natural production varies on an annual basis due to highly variable stream flows and water temperature fluctuations in this coastal region. Hatchery supplementation of natural production in Resurrection Bay is necessary to meet the demands of this sport fishery.”

Collectors were able to harvest about 70,000 eggs, which are being raised at the Trail Lakes Fish Hatchery near Moose Pass, said Andrea Tesch, the hatchery manager at Fish and Game’s William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage. Usually, some of the Resurrection Bay coho are raised in Anchorage, but there weren’t enough and so they’re all in Trail Lakes, she said.

That left the Anchorage hatchery with an empty tank, which they filled with coho salmon sourced from Ship Creek coho, she said.

“Rather than let those remain empty, we took extra eggs at Ship Creek and are going to release them at the Nick Dudiak (Fishing Lagoon in Homer),” she said.

Things should go back to normal next year, as the collectors met their egg-take goals this summer, she said. Coho salmon spend one to two years in freshwater and then one at sea before returning, meaning the fish released in 2018 will return in 2019.

The fish in Homer are stocked into the lagoon, which is a terminal salt water fishery where the salmon can’t naturally spawn. From 2011–2013, the lagoon saw weak returns and low harvests, which Fish and Game attributed to poor ocean survival for a variety of reasons, including several years of below-average size smolt releases, harmful diatom blooms during salt water rearing, overall downturn of coho survival in Cook Inlet and poor rearing habitat in the lagoon. Fish and Game has addressed the smolt size issue and changed salt water rearing practices, according to the stocking plan, but the reason for the overall downturn in coho salmon isn’t clear. Tesch said the hatchery is releasing health smolt at or slightly above the recommended size, but many factors out of Fish and Game’s control in the ocean affect survival.

“There’s just so many different things that come into play,” she said.

The city of Homer dredged out the lagoon in partnership with Fish and Game a few years ago to help solve some of the habitat problems there, said Homer City Manager Katie Koester. The city has a fund for maintaining the lagoon though not a regular schedule for dredging it, she said.

“I think it’s probably going to be that if it looks like the problem is happening again, we’ll have to address it,” she said.

Another change in the 2018 stocking plan is the addition of another stocked lake on the Kenai Peninsula — Aurora Lake, a small lake at the end of Detroit Street near the end of Funny River Road. Aurora Lake was one of three removed from the stocking lists in 2013 but will be reinstated in 2018, according to the 2018 stocking plan.

“Stocking was discontinued in Aurora, Cecille and Quintin lakes due to low or nonexistient levels of participation reported by the Statewide Harvest Survey in 2013,” the plan states. “These fish were distributed to remaining Kenai Peninsula stocked lakes.”

The stocking plan is still open to public comment through Jan. 30.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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