Southeast salmon escapement goals change to maximize returns

Alaska Board of Fisheries to meet again today
Chairman Karl Johnstone, center, runs a Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting at Centennial Hall on Wednesday. Along with Johnstone are board members Fritz Johnson, left, Tom Kluberton, second from left, Executive Director Glenn Haight, second from right and John Jensen. The meetings continue today.

For some southeast Alaska salmon stocks, goals for escapements — the number of fish allowed to swim free during fishing season to spawn — have changed to maximize the fish populations in those runs.

 

Steve Heinl and Ed Jones of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game informed the ADF&G Board of Fisheries of the changes on Wednesday. The board is holding a work session meeting in Juneau through Thursday at Centennial Hall.

Of the 52 monitored salmon stocks with escapement goals in southeast, seven were flagged to be changed based on years of data and a review process, said Heinl, a regional research biologist. None of them were identified as “stocks of concern,” or unable to sustain themselves at the current escapement rate.

Of the goals that will change, escapement ranges for the Klukshu River sockeye and king salmon and the Speel Lake sockeye salmon tightened. The Klukshu is a transboundary river and is part of the Alsek River system, originating in the Yukon and terminating southeast of Yakutat. Ranges for the Lost River coho salmon, the Southern Southeast summer-run chum salmon, the Northern Southeast Outside summer-run salmon and the Chilkat River fall-run chum salmon expanded.

When a goal is increased on a run, there are more fish spawning and more fish coming back to be caught, Heinl said after the meeting. But having too many fish in a stock can also limit the success of the fishery, he said. It’s all about finding a happy medium — an optimal goal for each stock.

The new goals could impact both commercial and sports fishermen, based on the run, Heinl said.

The state tracks escapement numbers based on the tight counts of each fish species caught that fishermen must take and report to the state. ADF&G employees from Alaska’s various regions must report the status of escapements — changes, removals and additions — to the board every three years, Heinl said. The board does not have to take action when new escapement goals are presented to them, board Chairman Karl Johnstone said.

Also at the meeting, the board heard a long list of agenda change requests from fishermen who want the board to consider changes to fishing regulations that impact them. The board is comprised of seven members from around the state. It addresses issues by region, depending on where they are meeting and will only consider an agenda change in an emergency.

By 3 p.m., the board had agreed to hear three of 15 agenda changes, all relating to Bering Sea Tanner and Norton Sound king crab fisheries. The board will consider reducing the size of the fishable male Tanner crab from 5.5 inches to 5 inches wide; putting a cap on winter commercial Norton Sound red king crab fishery; and changing the length of the Norton Sound winter commercial king crab fishery.

The board has not yet decided at which future meeting it will consider these regulation changes.

There are a total of 27 requests on the board’s agenda. More requests will be considered at Thursday’s meeting.

Early on in Wednesday’s proceedings, Johnstone and Tom Kluberton were re-elected to their positions of chairman and vice chairman for another year. All members kept their standing committee assignments from the year before.

The state-waters pollock workgroup report was moved to Thursday’s “miscellaneous business” agenda item so the board can consider another pollock-related proposal it heard Wednesday.

For specific information on Southeast escapement goal changes, visit http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.main, click on “meeting information” and select the Oct. 15 and 16 meeting.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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