Gillnet opener 'fairly good'
Commercial fishermen reeled in a “fairly good showing” of hatchery chum on the south end of the Lynn Canal gillnet fishery during the two-day season opener that ended noon Tuesday, with catches ranging up to 200 chum per boat.
“It’s pretty good for an early-season opening,” said commercial fisheries biologist Randy Bachman. By regulation, commercial gillnet fishing starts here on the third Sunday in June, which this year occurred June 15.
More than 100 boats participated, included gillnetters and processors Gfrom Petersburg and Juneau. The fishery started slow but improved Monday on incoming tides.
But high winds and sporadic catches led some fishermen to set crab pots instead or in addition to gillnetting, as the Sunday opening of that fishery was seeing abundant returns.
“There’s lots of crabs,” said Norman Hughes. “Every pot I pulled averaged more than five and some had 12.” Pots were lining Chilkat Inlet from the state park to Seduction Point, he said. “Everywhere there’s a shelf, there’s a pot.”
A local processor is paying $2.80 per pound for crab, a price increase from about $2.20 per pound.
Salmon processors were paying about $1.70 per pound for sockeye and 60 cents per pound for chum, comparable to season-ending prices last year.
About 12 gillnet boats fished on the northern part of the fishery, open on the west side of Lynn Canal below Seduction Point, but about half left to fish in the lower district before the end of fishing. The fishery was limited to two days to conserve returning Chilkat kings.
Early sockeye numbers are at record levels, with 613 through Chilkat River fish wheels early this year to date, compared to a historic average of 115 fish for the same time period, and 545 reds in the 2009 parent year. “There’s no gear greater than what we’ve had so far and it’s only Tuesday. The early run is especially strong,” Bachman said.
He said 125 sockeye were caught in 12 hours in wheels over Monday night.
About 1,200 sockeye were through Chilkoot weir Monday, compared to an average of about 2,800 for the same time period. The numbers, however, were better than 205 sockeye through for the same week in the parent year.
Fish and Game is expecting a weak sockeye return to Chilkoot Lake, as the parent year to this season’s run amounted to a return of only 33,000, short of the agency’s escapement goal range of between 38,000 and 86,000 fish. “In 2008 and 2009, the returns were really poor at Chilkoot. We expected 2013 and 2014 to be similar, but so far Chilkoot is stronger than it was this time last year and stronger than it was at this time in the parent year,” Bachman said.
The Chilkat sockeye run is expected to be stronger than average, with parent year returns of 150,000 fish in 2008 and 72,000 in 2009. The escapement goal range for Chilkat Lake is 70,000-150,000 fish.
Next week’s three-day commercial gillnet opening starts at noon Sunday.