Good ocean survival conditions have made for a Southeast chinook harvest quota that is the highest since the signing of the original Pacific Salmon Treaty Agreement in 1985.
The treaty covers fish that are spawned in either the United States or Canada, but that are caught in both countries. It does not include hatchery fish, for which there is no quota.
Southeast fishermen will be able to catch 373,870 treaty chinook, about 8,000 more than last year.
"We're forecasting that there will be very high abundance of chinook in most areas of the coast this year," said Scott McPherson, the Department of Fish and Game's Chinook Technical Committee representative.
Fish and Game said the favorable survival conditions allowed for strong returns of most chinook stocks to rivers from Oregon up to Alaska.
Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said the increase demonstrates the overall health of salmon fisheries.
"Considering that more people are asking for Alaska wild salmon, it will be good to have more," he said.
Vinsel commented that domestic demand has been rising for wild salmon because of various news reports discussing its health benefits and the drawbacks of farmed salmon.
The quota breaks down to 279,350 fish for commercial trollers, 69,840 fish for sport fishermen, 16,080 for commercial purse seiners and 8,600 for commercial gillnetters.
While this season's quota is the highest since 1985, McPherson said there have been comparable abundance levels in the past, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But back then, the treaty specified a fixed-catch ceiling of 263,000 per year for Southeast, regardless of the abundance. Alaska proposed going to abundance-based management in 1995, and that was incorporated into the new treaty in 1999.
The abundance-based management also allows the quota to go below 263,000 when abundance is low, and that happened in 1999, 2000 and 2001, McPherson said.
This year's abundance index is 1.83, up from 1.79 last year. The index represents the year's returns relative to average returns between 1979 and 1982. For example, this year's ratio means that for every 100,000 salmon in the area between 1979 and 1982 there are now 183,000 salmon.
Masha Herbst can be reached at email@example.com.
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