King salmon quota drops by about 17,000

Decrease translates to about three to four fewer days of fishing than in 2006

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2007

The Southeast Alaska king salmon harvest quota for 2007 has been set at 329,400, slightly less than last year's, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced.

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The figure means a decrease of 17,000 fish from 2006.

"That is probably three or four days fewer fishing than last year," said Matt Cole of Juneau, who usually trolls around Elfin Cove.

Regulations will largely be the same as last year's, said David Bedford, the department's deputy commissioner and the Alaska commissioner for the Pacific Salmon Commission.

"Seventeen thousand fish is such a small variation it is very difficult to do anything with your management. Fisheries management is not a perfectly precise science," he said.

The salmon harvest quota is determined by the Pacific Salmon Commission according to goals for long-term management set by the Pacific Salmon Treaty, first signed between Canada and the United States in 1985.

The quota is divvied up in Alaska according to plans set by the Board of Fisheries. Commercial fishermen get 80 percent of the total share, while sport fishermen may take 20 percent.

Most king, or chinook, salmon produced in Alaska hatcheries are not factored in and may be caught outside the treaty limit.

"It really doesn't mean that much (for sport fishermen)," said Charlie Swanton, the regional coordinator for the department's sport fish division.

"As abundance drops, that may have more of an impact," he said.

While down from 2006, the quota numbers are still above the average for the past eight years, the department said. The number is derived from data on stocks of West Coast king salmon.

The annual salmon returns to many West Coast rivers, from Oregon to Alaska, remained strong this year. However, they have declined from higher levels of 2003 to 2005.

The department said it appeared that king salmon originating from the Columbia River and the West Coast of Vancouver Island were in slight decline.

Commercial fishermen say they would like to see a repeat of last year's high prices, which rebounded from a few years previously, when king salmon were selling for less than $1 per pound.

The rise of the farmed salmon industry has been blamed for the price fluctuations, but fishermen say it looks like wild salmon are becoming more popular.

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"Now that people have a little information about (wild salmon), there is a market for them now," Cole said.

Others noted that prices are still not as high as they once were.

"The prices in the '80s were much higher than they are now," said Joseph Riederer, who began fishing with his dad during World War II. After working part time as a physician, he plans on trolling this summer.

Wayne Stauffer, also a troller from Juneau, predicted the price would start around $3 a pound.

"Sure, if it is a small quota you are going to have a higher price, but I think it is more dependent upon what Alaska Seafood Marketing (Institute) has done," he said.

With rising prices for fish, commercial permits are also becoming more costly. Estimates ranged from $35,000 to $38,000 for a permit.

Stauffer said that if he saw one for the higher price, he'd snatch it.

"They are few and far between right now," he said.

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