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

Strong sockeye run returns to Chilkoot, electric fence goes up


August 30, 2018

The electric fence is designed to allow bears to fish at the weir, but keep them off the boardwalk. Kyle Clayton photo.

Chilkoot sockeye escapement is approaching Alaska Department of Fish and Game's upper escapement limit and commercial fishermen are fishing five days a week in Lutak Inlet.

Nearly 84,000 sockeye passed the weir as of Wednesday, said Fish and Game area commercial fisheries biologist Wyatt Rhea-Fournier. In mid-July, low sockeye returns had Rhea-Fournier wondering where the fish were. By the end of the month, a pulse of 38,000 fish, about triple the 10-year average, returned to Chilkoot Lake.

"The Chilkoot run can be difficult to manage when it comes in these big spurts," Rhea-Fournier said. "We had 38,000 fish that pushed through in one week. The next week it was 13,000." Those returns reduced to about 3,500 sockeye per week. This week, about 1,000 fish have made it upriver as of Wednesday afternoon.

Luck Dunbar, captain of the F/V Wampum, told the CVN this week that increased regulations has made sockeye fishing spotty. "Some guys are catching them. I don't think it helps that we've been so regulated this year," Dunbar said. "I think the whole fleet is going to be looking for a winter job."

The Alaska Board of Fisheries placed additional restrictions on fishermen to protect king salmon-a population in the Chilkat River that's been labelled a stock of concern. Additional restrictions early in the fishing season helped reduce the overall king harvest, Rhea-Fournier said. By mid-July last year, the fleet caught 300 to 400 kings a week. The fleet has reported less than 200 during the same period this year.

Dunbar said an army of Lutak Inlet seals have been helping themselves to fishermen's nets. "I heard of one guy who was fishing his net like someone sub fishing," Dunbar said of a fisherman racing to get fish before seals did. "Rather than pull the whole net in, he'd just back his boat into the net and pick it."

Rhea-Fournier also said he's heard complaints from commercial and subsistence fishermen about seals. "They're out there and they're very efficient at getting the fish out of the net," he said.

While the Chilkoot side has plenty of fishing opportunity (despite the seals) and escapement, the Chilkat side is less productive. Based on data from the past 10 years, the Chilkat River run should be about halfway complete. Fish and Game has counted a total of 42,000 sockeye so far, which projects a total run of about 85,000 to 90,000 total escapement-just above the 70,000 lower end of the escapement goal.

"Chilkat's not looking great so we're doing less fishing on that side," Rhea-Fournier said. "We are starting to see some coho on the lower Lynn Canal fishing grounds. We've been limited to two days a week for most weeks, waiting for a good sense of the coho run before we start allowing more commercial opportunity."

Fishermen are getting paid an average of $1.98 per pound for sockeye this year, according to Fish and Game fish tickets. The fleet has harvested 60,000 sockeye from the district so far this season, a slight increase from last year's record low harvest of 40,000.

Haines Packing owner Harry Rietze said his cannery has tripled its sockeye processing compared to last year. "It's starting to wind down now," Rietze said. "Some of the guys are hoping to get one more week. Most guys are switching to fall gear."

Bears compete over smattering of pinks, fence put up

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists installed a low voltage electric fence this week at the Chilkoot River weir to keep bears off the planks.

Fish and Game wildlife conservation research biologist Anthony Crupi helped install the fence that he says will help keep bears, who are competing for fewer food resources than normal, from walking onto he boardwalk, but still let them fish. "The big issue this year is the low pink salmon return," Crupi said. "This is one of the lowest pink salmon return records since the weir has been in place. I think they just hit 5,000 pink salmon. There's a lot competition for bears to get the few fish that have returned to spawn."

On Tuesday night a sow with her cubs charged another sow with a cub. The mother and cub were separated after the other bear charged them. Crupi said the electric fence is also set up to ensure the public keeps a safe distance from the animals, especially when bears are fishing for limited food.

He bought the fence five years ago and has had plans to install it. "It's run on four D batteries," Crupi said. "It's very low voltage and amperage. It's the same sort of fence people put around their chickens. A lot of people have been really concerned that the bears are going to get electrocuted and end up drowning. That is not a remote possibility."

Crupi said if the fence harms any animal, he'll remove it.

Crupi is in town with biologist Stephanie Sell. They have initiated what might be a five-year study on brown bear populations in the valley. "We'll be throughout the entire valley capture and collaring [brown bears] throughout the next couple of years."

Crupis studied Chilkoot Corridor brown bears for his master's thesis and has been tracking population since 2000. On average, about five adult females, nine cubs and three to four sub-adults live in the area. "That's right where we're at this year," Crupi said.

Crupi will preview his study publicly at a meeting late next week, location and time to be determined.


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