Forecasts for low returns of wild king salmon to the Unuk River and other king spawning waterways in Southeast Alaska have prompted substantial reductions in harvest opportunities in the region, especially in inside waters.
This will have a broad impact this year, affecting commercial fishermen, the guided sport sector and everyday sport anglers.
Around Ketchikan, most areas are now closed to the retention of sport-caught king salmon through June 14 — with a portion of northern Revillagigedo Channel and southeast Behm Canal closed to the retention of kings through Aug. 14. Northeast Behm Canal and a portion of Behm Canal around the north end of Revillagigedo Island is fully closed to all salmon fishing all year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
This is the time of year that many Ketchikan people begin looking forward to fishing for king salmon, especially in the Ketchikan CHARR Educational Fund King Salmon Derby. That event has been canceled, as have annual derbies in Wrangell and Juneau.
The commercial sector will feel effects, as well.
This year’s commercial troll harvest limit for king salmon in Southeast Alaska is 95,700 kings, about 59,100 fewer fish than the preseason limit for 2017.
Commercial seine harvesters will be prohibited from retaining king salmon greater than 28 inches in length outside of terminal harvest areas, and commercial gillnetters will have combinations of time, mesh and/or area restrictions.
The realization that king salmon stocks have declined in Southeast Alaska is troubling, to say the least. King salmon are iconic, closely intertwined with the region’s history, culture and economy. The State of Alaska is correct to implement restrictive harvest limits this year.
But reducing harvests is a reaction to a symptom; it’s medicine that might or might not be enough to address the problem.
Simply put, we don’t know what’s causing the declines of king salmon in Alaska. There are a handful of hypothesis, but no clear explanations. We need a clear explanation in hand.
Thus do we encourage the state and federal governments to develop research efforts that might provide real answers. We understand that such answers could prove difficult to obtain, and could cause distress to established interests and ways of doing things.
But with the health of king salmon stocks now in question, we no longer have the luxury of casually guessing at the cause or causes.
Let’s figure out why stocks are declining while there could be time to stem the decline if cutting harvests by local sport and commercial fishers isn’t enough.
Let’s not lose wild king salmon on our watch.
— Ketchikan Daily News,