In downtown Anchorage, fishers at Ship Creek are enjoying one of the state’s stronger king returns.
June 17, anglers participating in the Slam’n Salm’n Derby — a fundraiser for the Downtown Soup Kitchen — recorded 21 kings by late afternoon, with Randall Yost landing a 33-pounder at about 12:50 p.m. that took the lead.
But while there are other bright spots in the state’s king runs — the Deshka and Nushagak are strong so far — it isn’t indicative of a statewide trend.
The kings returning to Ship Creek are mostly two-ocean fish stocked by the Jack Hernandez Sport Hatchery, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Farther north, wild kings are returning to the Deshka River, where sport fishing was liberalized June 14 in response to the perceived run strength. There, ADFG is now allowing bait and multiple hooks.
Through June 17, 13,151 kings were counted at the Deshka weir. The escapement goal there is a range of 13,000-28,000 kings.
In Bristol Bay, the Nushagak River has the strongest king run so far, with 27,767 counted through June 17 according to ADFG, more than the 3,600 to 8,400 kings counted by the same date in recent past.
That’s the strongest of the Bristol Bay runs so far. ADFG reported poor king fishing so far in the Alagnak and Naknek drainages, and returns elsewhere in the state remain slow.
The early-run king return on the Kenai River was 3,533 through June 16, ahead of the 2013 return, which came in at an all-time low, but still behind 2011 and 2012, according to ADFG.
Other Cook Inlet runs are also slow, with king counts on the Anchor River, on the southern Kenai Peninsula, and the Little Susitna, farther north in the Matanuska-Susitna region, behind the 2013 numbers.
Likewise, the Karluk River and Ayakulik River king numbers, both on Kodiak Island, are behind the 2013 counts.
On the Gulkana River, 264 kings were counted through June 17, a much earlier run than 2012 and 2013 when zero fish were counted by that same date.
Throughout the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, king returns are, once again, poor, and fishing is severely limited.
On the Yukon River, the first pulse of kings appear to have reached Pilot Station earlier than in recent years, likely related in part to the timing of ice on that river, and the second pulse is also early, according to a June 16 ADFG update.
There, 57,897 kings were counted through June 17, more than were counted by that date at any year in the recent past. Daily counts have varied from 2,000 to 9,000 fish; daily counts during the height of the first pulse last year reached 14,000 or more kings.
According to ADFG, that run still appears to be on-track for a poor return.
Kings are also returning to the Kuskokwim River early, according to a June 16 update from ADFG, in part due to early breakup and warm temperatures, but the department has said the Bethel Test Fishery numbers are not directly comparable to past years because of differences in management, and has not indicated what the run strength is.
Fishing remains restricted by both ADFG and federal wildlife refuge managers there.
The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim stocks are also the focus of several new research projects. The North Pacific Research Board, or NPRB, recently announced funding for three projects focused on better understanding king, or chinook, runs there.
Those will look at thiamine levels in chinook eggs, early chinook marine ecology along the eastern Bering Sea shelf and modeling of forage and habitat.
The thiamine study will look at how thiamine deficiency could affect productivity in Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim salmon stocks, while the early marine study will look at the effects of climate change and variability on those stocks’ growth, fitness and survival.
The model funding will go toward finalizing and testing the stream discharge and competition elements of the model, and how those affect the carrying capacity of freshwater streams.
The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim king projects will receive about $800,000 out of the $4.7 million the NPRB has slated for 24 different fisheries research projects this year.
Commercial fishers, and sport anglers, targeting sockeye salmon are off to a stronger start.
In Prince William Sound, the total harvest through June 17 was 1.98 million fish, including 1.6 million sockeyes, 239,000 chums, 135,000 pinks and 9,000 kings, according to ADFG’s blue sheet estimate.
At Kodiak, fishers landed 429,000 salmon, including 404,000 sockeyes and 22,000 chums, through June 17, according to ADFG.
A 33-hour commercial opening in several areas was planned for June 21 and 22.
Fewer than 1,000 kings were caught so far in the commercial fishery in Kodiak; this year, the Board of Fisheries passed a regulation change requiring purse seiners to return kings to the water earlier in the season.
Fishing at Bristol Bay has not yet picked up as much speed. There, fishers have harvested 70,000 fish, including 67,000 sockeyes, through June 17 according to ADFG’s estimates.
Southeast Alaska fishers have landed 111,000 salmon so far this year. There, however, kings make up the larger proportion of the catch — 84,000 kings were taken through June 17.
Much of that came from the winter troll fishery. Summer trollers have taken 22,000 kings.
The Southeast Alaska purse seine fishery opened June 15.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.