The Haines gillnet fleet will, once again, see a conservative set of management restrictions for the 2021 season, according to a Feb. 8 press release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG).

In 2020, upper Lynn Canal fishing was restricted to two days per week in the Eldred Rock Lighthouse area. In southern Lynn Canal, fishing was limited to the “Postage Stamp,” an area north of Auke Bay and south of Berners Bay, with two days of fishing. Night closures were in effect from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. and a six-inch maximum mesh restriction was in place.

These same restrictions, designed to reduce the chances of accidentally catching king salmon, will be in place in 2021 until at least mid-July, despite the fact that the 2020 Chilkat River king escapement was the highest since 2009 and marks the second consecutive year of meeting the 1,750 to 3,500-fish escapement goal. Escapement goals are based on the number of mature salmon that need to make it to the spawning grounds each year to ensure the population remains sustainable and to maximize the number of smolt that survive.

Based on brood years, the 2021 run forecast for Chilkat River king is expected to be 1,500—below the lower bound of the escapement goal.

“The forecast is largely dependent on returning fish from the 2016 spawning event (brood year 2016), which so far appears poor, with low numbers as three- and four-year-old fish in previous return years,” ADFG biologist Brian Elliott said.

For last year, “the estimated escapement of Chilkat Chinook salmon age five and older is 3,180 fish, which is made up of eighty-six percent five-year old fish and fourteen percent six-year old fish,” Elliott said, adding that ADFG estimates 588 four-year-old fish reached spawning grounds in 2020.

In 2018, Chilkat River king salmon were designated a stock of concern after failing to meet escapement goals in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Healthy runs the past two years aren’t necessarily a sign that the population has recuperated, according to Fish and Game.

Last year, weak runs in other salmon species and unimpressive prices resulted in a disappointing fishing season for Lynn Canal gillnetters, who said the ADFG management restrictions added to the challenges.

“Any time you lose time and area, it’s tough. It puts the squeeze on opportunity,” Haines fisherman Norm Hughes said. He said the continued management restrictions and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to make 2021 another challenging year for Lynn Canal fishermen.

In 2020, the Chilkat River was one of six ADFG-monitored rivers that met king escapement goals. In addition to the Chilkat, the Alsek, Situk, Chickamin, Blossom and Keta rivers also met escapement goals. ADFG-monitored rivers that did not meet goals in 2020 include the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers, along with Andrew Creek and King Salmon River.