Docked for two months by an emergency order, it’s been a painful early season for charter and sport fishermen around Southeast Alaska.
But for those with an itch to fish, relief is here: After a two-month wait, anglers in the Juneau area are now allowed to retain king salmon.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game lifted the king salmon fishing ban at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, ADF&G biologist Daniel Teske said by phone Wednesday. The closure was instated in April after ADF&G forecasted a second year of record-low returns for king salmon on the Taku River south of Juneau, prompting them to close fishing in an attempt to preserve adequate numbers of salmon to reproduce.
ADF&G expects about 13,300 fish to return to the Taku River system this year. To keep the Taku run healthy, Fish & Game wants to see 19,000-36,000 fish return.
Regulations are — for the most part — back to normal.
“We will be fishing under the regional regulations. … Two fish for residents, that’s a bag and possession limit, and one fish bag and possession limit for non-resident and a three fish annual limit for non-resident,” Teske said, adding that fish under a length of 28 inches are illegal to keep.
(For a full breakdown of king salmon regulations, visit adfg.alaska.gov).
For charter fishermen and tackle shop owners, the closure was a major loss of revenue as it coincided with the best season to catch kings in Juneau.
Chris Conder with Rum Run Charters was able to power through the loss by taking visitors on whale watching trips and fishing for rockfish. While speaking from the water on the front end of a double-booked Wednesday, Conder said business has been meager in May.
“We lost a lot of money. … We’re really looking forward to tomorrow, I’ll tell you that,” Conder said. “We were able to keep our business going, we kept working. It’s going to be one of our lowest Mays ever, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re trying to maintain a population.”
Samantha Weinstein, Executive Director of Southeast Guides Organization, said many of the 40 or so charter fishers she represents have been hurting for business. Part of it was the timing. Many visitors had already purchased charter fishing trips by the time the closure happened in April, leaving captains with the tough call to customers, who had little time to make other plans.
“The situation that comes up is ‘Do I now have to call up all my clients and let them know that they should cancel?’” Weinstein said by phone Wednesday. “‘Do I take them further away from Juneau and let them or look for other fish that are running and are there other fish running in the area?’ … We have a short time frame that people can operate their businesses.”
Fishing license sales are down at Western Auto Marine, a local hardware store, tackle shop and auto parts supplier. Manager John Weedman said the shop annually sees a several hundred thousand dollars in license sales. Revenue from those sales are down about 25 percent, he said, with the shop losing a similar amount in fishing gear sales.
“I can tell you it was very significant. … When there was not fishing, nobody was buying licenses and that cut down on gear sales significantly because of the loss of foot traffic,” he said. “We are hopeful that we will see a resurgence in sales.”
ADF&G will also lose money from the lack of fishing sales, though Teske said those numbers wouldn’t be available until their end-of-year review.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Terminal Harvest Areas will be closed to king salmon fishing. The Terminal Harvest Areas will be open, but will not have liberalized regulations. The Empire regrets the error.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.