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Alaska king-salmon fisheries opening

5/31/2006

ANCHORAGE — Southeast Alaska king-salmon fishermen could see a nearly 10 percent boost in their catch this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said yesterday that for the first time since the mid-1970s, fisheries for king salmon will be opened at the Stikine and Taku rivers. That will mean expanded opportunities for both commercial and sport fishermen.

Both rivers flow from Canada and cross the U.S. border.

The expanded fisheries are made possible by an agreement reached with Canada officials at the Pacific Salmon Commission, meeting this week in Portland.

King-salmon fishing had been banned or limited in the rivers since the mid-1970s after damage to stocks, mostly by overfishing, said Scott Kelley, the state's commercial fishery Southeast regional supervisor. In 1999, the United States and Canada under the Pacific Salmon Treaty Agreement agreed not to develop new fisheries on trans-boundary waters without the consent of both countries and without putting in place "abundance-based" management.

After healthy returns in recent years, salmon-commission representatives agreed to allow the fisheries to begin as soon as this year.

"With the opening of these fisheries, Alaskans are reaping the reward of a long-term conservation program," said David Bedford, a Fish and Game Department assistant commissioner.

The conservation measures meant commercial gill-net fishing, targeted at sockeye salmon, started in mid-June for the rivers. Kings were taken incidentally but the larger fish mostly moved through earlier, Kelley said.

The agreement means commercial fishing could open a month earlier with fishermen targeting kings.

"I would anticipate early May openings," Kelley said.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, anticipating an agreement with Canada, adopted regulations for the Taku River in 2003. The board will take up regulations for the Stikine and possibly adjust rules for the Taku in March during meetings in Anchorage.

The terminal run is the number of salmon that return to the river or are harvested in salt water as they approach the mouth of the river.

Preseason forecasts estimate the number of terminal kings in the Taku at about 96,000. Alaska's share of the harvest would be 20,500 fish split by sport fishermen and commercial fishermen using nets or lines. Canada's share, taken in-river, mostly by drift gill nets, would be just more than 14,000, Kelley said.

For the Stikine River, the preseason forecast of the terminal run is 80,300 fish, and the combined sport and commercial harvest in Alaska would be about 27,300. Canada's share would be 17,800, Kelley said.

The preseason numbers are subject to change when in-season projections of salmon returns begin, Kelley said.

Each country will determine how the king salmon will be allocated between sport fishing and various gear groups of commercial fishermen.

Southeast fishermen took a record 507,000 kings last year, including 484,000 by commercial fishermen.

The agreement with Canada also provides for U.S. subsistence fisheries for king and coho salmon on the Stikine River. The fisheries will be subject to federal oversight.

The Stikine River flows northwest and south more than 300 miles through British Columbia to Eastern Passage two miles south of Wrangell.

The Taku flows from British Columbia 54 miles west to Taku Inlet 18 miles northeast of Juneau.