Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

King salmon rules tighten

Chilkat Inlet closed to July 16


March 19, 2015

Department of Fish and Game biologists this week outlined new restrictions on area fisheries aimed to protect the Chilkat king salmon return, including closing Chilkat Inlet to subsistence fishing through July 15.

Sport fishing in Chilkat Inlet also will be closed through July 15, with a daily bag limit of one king in northern Lynn Canal. Regulations on subsistence fishing in the Chilkat River won’t change from last year.

The subsistence closure – considerably larger than one proposed three weeks ago by Fish and Game – would match the sportfish closure, which was previously set through June.

Also, commercial gillnet fishing on the west side of Lynn Canal to the Small Boat Harbor will be closed for the first two or three weeks of the season, said Fish and Game biologist Randy Bachman.

There will be no king-related closures on gillnetters in lower Lynn Canal targeting hatchery chum salmon, where about 41 percent of Chilkat kings intercepted by the gillnet fleet were caught in 2014. Gillnetters there harvest kings from mixed stocks, Bachman said. (Fifty-nine percent of the gillnet king take in 2014 occurred north of Point Sherman.)

Biologists shared the new management plan at last week’s meeting of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council.

A Juneau-based king salmon coordinator for Fish and Game early last week suggested the state might consider night closures on gillnet boats targeting hatchery chum, but Bachman said that’s not the plan at this point. “(Night closures) are always in our tool bag, but aren’t in our plan this year. We have it in our play book if we have to see that in the future.”

“There are some Chilkat kings there, but as you go farther north there are more. That’s why we’re concentrating our conservation on the north end…We feel confident that without any targeted fishing in the inlet, (restrictions) will work pretty well,” Bachman said.

The commercial closure will affect about a half- dozen boats that have worked the fishery closer to Haines in recent years.

Subsistence fishermen and advocates this week expressed concern about the new restrictions. Marilyn Wilson of the Haines Alaska Native Sisterhood said commercial fishermen in lower Lynn Canal should also face restrictions. She said she supported night closures there and would be agreeable to a subsistence closure in Lynn Canal half the length of what’s been proposed.

“If we need to curtail fishing, we should curtail a little bit of everybody,” Wilson said. “We all blame each other, but there are so many factors (affecting kings). It’s not only one thing.”

Resident Bill Finlay, who has subsistence fished in Chilkat Inlet since 1989, this week called the closure “kind of disappointing.”

“If they tell us we can’t fish, we can’t fish. I understand they’re trying to save the (Chilkat) stock, which is what everybody wants, but 100 fish in subsistence nets isn’t going to make a difference,” Finlay said.

An earlier proposed closure, to limit subsistence fishing to below the north end of Kochu Island, makes more sense, Finlay said.

Commercial fishermen work around the clock with 1,200-foot nets compared to ones one-fourth that size or smaller used by subsistence fishermen, who stop fishing when the winds blow up, he said.

Chilkat Inlet at Letnikof and south already is so crowded with boats it can be difficult at times to find a place to fish, Finlay said. “I’m afraid that once this goes into effect, it will be hard to get (subsistence fishing) area back. This will be the new normal.”

Inlet subsistence fisherman Burl Sheldon said the state could do more to educate subsistence fishermen on release techniques in order to reduce mortality. “People have to be focused on their nets all the time. If (you catch) a king, you can tell by the cork movement.”

Kings should be handled only at the waterline and fishermen should be willing to cut web to minimize handling, he said. “I don’t know if all subsistence users are attuned to that. I think there’s an education opportunity here for Fish and Game. There’s a lot of new people out there (subsistence fishing).”

Commercial fishermen this week also questioned how many kings have been harvested at Klukwan.

Bachman said the state encourages subsistence users to be honest in their catch reporting.

“It’s up to the public to help provide that information and help manage that resource. It doesn’t make sense to not report (catches).”

Bachman said the earlier announced closures were “at the beginning stages of” agency discussion on how to protect kings. Closures outlined this week aren’t based on new information “other than it made sense to do that,” he said.

The closures won’t be official until the state issues a press release. They could change through in-season management actions, biologists said.


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