King escapement 2nd lowest since '91
Preliminary numbers show king salmon escapement this year at the second-lowest mark since the state revised standards for the run in 1991.
Rich Chapell, area management biologist for Fish and Game’s Sportfish Division, said workers have counted 1,691 spawning kings in Chilkat River tributaries including Kelsall and Tahini rivers and Big Boulder and Little Boulder creeks. Last year’s escapement was 1,744.
Numbers of spawning king salmon have fallen below the low end of the state’s escapement goal of 1,850 fish in four of the past seven years. Before 2006, the run had never fallen below minimum escapement.
“It’s a trend, this low king salmon abundance, but on the positive side it looks like we have a couple strong age classes coming behind (this year),” Chapell said. Strong catches of immature kings in Taiya Inlet in August are an indicator, he said. “Those are next year’s spawners, which are showing up in pretty good numbers. There should be good escapement the next couple years.”
To protect returns of spawning kings throughout Southeast in mid-summer, Fish and Game reduced bag limits regionwide. Locally, the agency also limited areas for subsistence fishing in Chilkat River and Chilkat Inlet.
Low catches in an in-river test fishery in early summer tipped off biologists that returns were off. High water levels due to warm weather, however, also reduced the catch rate, making biologists fear the run was more depressed than it turned out to be, Chapell said. “The high water definitely had an effect.”
The low numbers here track with ones elsewhere, including Taku River near Juneau, where kings also returned at 10 percent below minimum escapement, Chapell said.
Kings were counted in Kelsall and Tahini river, with fewer than average in Big Boulder creek. It was encouraging to see them also in Little Boulder, where spawners aren’t always found, Chapell said.
“Everywhere we looked, we saw spawning king salmon. It’s not a biological desert out there, but in the future, we’ll manage to meet the escapement goal,” including through adjusting sport fish bag limits and the timing of commercial fishing in Chilkat Inlet.