State triples bag limit for kings
Southeast fisheries biologists expect a strong return of king salmon this season, and bag and possession limits for Alaska residents are increasing to reflect that expectation.
The Department of Fish and Game last week released the 2014 king salmon regulations for anglers in Southeast and Yakutat, which establishes a bag and possession limit of three kings 28 inches or more for Alaska residents.
Nonresident sport anglers have a bag and possession limit of one king salmon of 28 inches or more, which increases to two during May and June.
The increases – up from a daily bag limit of one king per day – signal the department’s confidence that “marine productivity is coming back in a big way,” said Richard Chapell, area biologist for Fish and Game’s Sportfish Division.
“Last year the limit was one per day for everyone. The abundance index for king salmon in Southeast was very low last year. It bounced back in a huge way this year,” Chapell said.
The preseason abundance index, which is determined by the Chinook Technical Committee of the Pacific Salmon Commission, uses a variety of factors to predict salmon stocks coastwide, from Oregon’s Cape Falcon to Alaska’s Cape Suckling.
Factors include the escapements in various rivers along the Northwest coast, catches in those rivers and the ages of the kings.
This year, the preseason abundance index is 2.57, which Chapell called “the highest ever,” or at least the highest he could remember.
The 2.57 index translates to 81,353 king salmon allocated to the Southeast sport fishery this season.
Last year, king salmon escapement was so low the department closed sport, subsistence and commercial fishing on the northern Chilkat Inlet and portions of the Chilkat River to protect salmon returning to spawn.
The preseason abundance index for last year was 1.2, with 32,466 allocated to the sport fishery.
Chapell said the high return prediction this year is the result of several forces, including a tremendous 2013 return of kings to the Columbia River. Catch rates in commercial troll fisheries late last year were also good, he said.
“What has been keeping production low is cold water temps in the Gulf of Alaska for the past couple years, but it seems like the water is warming up,” Chapell said. “It’s going to be a better rearing environment this year.”
Strong catches of immature “feeder” kings in Taiya Inlet last August also indicate this year’s spawners will be showing up in good numbers, Chapell said.