October 13, 2011 |

Gillnetting ends; Chilkat red return misses goal for 2nd year

The Lynn Canal commercial fishing season ended Wednesday, Oct. 5.

"The fall run of chum and coho was petering out. It’s winding down now," said Randy Bachman, commercial fisheries biologist for Fish and Game.

Thirty boats participated in the fishery, netting 2,100 chum and 1,100 coho. Per pound prices to fishermen averaged 85 cents for chum and 1.15 for coho. At 16 weeks, the local gillnet season was one week longer than average, Bachman said.

Fish and Game stopped its fish wheels at 9 Mile Haines Highway Monday and will stop counting fish through Chilkat weir Oct. 17.

With 63,000 reds through the weir, it appears unlikely the state will reach the bottom of its escapement goal range of 70,000 sockeye. The top of the range is 150,000 spawners back into Chilkat Lake.

At Chilkoot, an escapement of 66,000 reds came within the state’s goal of between 38,000 and 86,000 spawners. Between the two runs, commercial fishermen netted 40,000 sockeye.

"It was a terrible run," Bachman said. "It was predicted to be poor. (Chilkat and Chilkoot sockeye returns) were predicted to be poor and they were."

It’s the second consecutive year Chilkat reds missed escapement. Last year’s total was 62,000, though 153,000 escaped in 2009.

Some local fishermen blame state managers for the missed goals, saying too many Haines-bound sockeye were intercepted by seiners fishing in south Lynn Canal.

Bachman said he suspects poor survival in salt water caused the drop in numbers. "That’s the most influential parameter that affects run sizes when they go to sea."

Next year Fish and Game will use an inclined-plane trap at Chilkoot weir to experiment with coming up with a population estimate for sockeye heading out to salt water.

"With that information, we can apply our assumptions on marine survival and predict how many (spawners) will come back three years later," Bachman said.

The trap estimates can be used to check data on fish in Chilkoot Lake currently determined through hydro-acoustic technology. That same technology doesn’t work at Chilkat Lake because of a high population of sticklebacks, a fish the sonar mistakes for sockeye.

Use of traps to measure juvenile fish at Chilkat doesn’t work because a slow current through the weir there allows smolt to elude the trap.

Chilkat returns are forecast only by limnology studies which measure the mass of zooplankton, or sockeye feed, in the lake in any year.

To ensure escapement, Chilkat management will remain very conservative in coming years, he said.

Improved returns are expected at Chilkoot Lake next year. Total return there is projected to be up to 120,000 fish, compared to 80,000 fish total this year, he said.