Commercial gillnetting moved to the mouth of the Chilkoot River this week as fishery managers sought to capitalize on sockeye escapement numbers into Chilkoot Lake that topped 80,000 Wednesday, the highest numbers by this time of the season since the weir started operating in 1976.
“It could be the largest run in a long time,” said commercial fisheries biologist Randy Bachman.
On Friday, July 20, 12,250 sockeye passed through Chilkoot weir, the largest, single-day escapement of reds in the weir’s history, topping a single-day mark of 12,106 fish in 1989. More than 10,000 reds went through Saturday and Sunday.
During the first day of fishing in Lutak this week, 15 boats in the upper canal averaged catches of 400 sockeye each.
Fish and Game already has well exceeded its lower escapement goal of 38,000 sockeye, said Bachman.
The top end of Fish and Game’s escapement goal at Chilkoot is 86,000 reds.
“It looks very likely we’re going to exceed the higher end of that goal, for the time of year we’re at right now,” Bachman said.
Bachman said he’s projecting escapement goals for reds into Chilkat Lake also will be reached this year. Almost 20,000 were through Chilkat weir by July 20 and fish wheel catches also were tracking ahead of last year, Bachman said.
Chum salmon fetch only about 80 cents per pound versus $1.40 per pound for sockeye, but most gillnetters early this week were still fishing southern districts, catching chum and making up the price difference in poundage.
Lynn Canal hatchery chum harvest peaked in the second week of July with an estimated harvest of 340,000 fish with a gross value of $2.31 million. Boats averaged nearly 2,000 chum each.
The canal chum harvest dropped to 230,000 last week, and participation dropped from 175 boats to 140, as some vessels headed to hatchery chum fisheries near Juneau. The strength of the remainder of hatchery chum return is a question, Bachman said.
“It’s hard to tell yet. It’s still the first week after the peak. With (sockeye) numbers like this, I think the fleet size (in Chilkoot Inlet) will grow,” Bachman said.
Fishing in Lynn Canal drew 140 of 393 commercial gillnet boats fishing in Southeast last week, or 38 percent. During the apparent chum peak two weeks ago, about 50 percent of 342 Southeast gillnet boats were in Lynn Canal.