Some sport fishermen in Haines want to see more salmon returns, but their proposed solutions aren't likely to happen, state fishery managers say.
About 200 people signed a petition earlier this month asking the state to improve the local sport fishery, especially for Chilkat River kings.
Sport harvests of the spring run of kings near Haines have dropped from an estimated 1,469 a year in the mid-1980s to an average of 271 a year since 1993, the state says. Hours spent fishing for kings have also dropped, by more than half, in the past 15 years.
Some anglers want runs of hatchery-raised kings, or improved river habitat so more fish will spawn naturally. But state biologists said the runs are healthy, hatchery fish would harm wild stocks, and the spawning streams either haven't been disturbed or couldn't be improved.
Jim Hamp, a charter operator who circulated the petition, wants a hatchery-supported chinook fishery in Haines like the one in Skagway.
``If they can't cure this cancer, they can at least give us chemotherapy,'' Hamp said. ``We'd rather have wild stocks, but it's not working.''
Besides the spring wild run, Haines anglers catch some Skagway hatchery fish feeding nearby in the summer.
Hamp said his clients catch mostly hatchery fish, ``and I have yet to have a client ask me is this a real fish. He's just happy to catch something.''
Douglas Olerud, who manages his family-owned Alaska Sport Shop in Haines, supports the petition, but prefers habitat improvements to hatchery fish.
``I don't want them to come in and just dump a bunch of fry in our rivers and hope they come back in four years,'' Olerud said.
He'd rather help natural fish survive by putting incubator boxes in streams, or adding debris to create pools where fish can rest.
The decline of the sport harvest has hurt Haines economically, Olerud said. Sales of trolling gear has plummeted in his shop over the years. In the mid-1980s, out-of-towners spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during the king salmon derby, but now it's mostly locals who participate, he said.
Fish and Game opposes a hatchery run for Haines because the state doesn't stock fish where there are wild runs, said Rocky Holmes, the Southeast supervisor for sport fish. Hatchery fish could introduce diseases or reduce the genetic diversity of the wild run, he said. Unlike Haines, Skagway doesn't have a wild king run.
State biologists also showed little support for changing the streams.
One of the main spawning streams for Chilkat kings, the Tahini River, hasn't been affected by humans, said Randy Ericksen, the sport fish management biologist for Haines and Skagway.
The other main stream, the Kelsall River, is in a heavily logged area, but its channel changes yearly over a broad delta. It wouldn't be practical to improve a channel that wasn't used the following year, he said.
The Haines petition comes as Southeast anglers face restrictions under a severely reduced king quota this year. But this could be an improved year for the Chilkat run. Fish and Game forecasts a return of 4,900 Chilkat River kings, following the two worst years in the 1990s.
Last week it took anglers an average of 25 hours to catch a king near Haines, better than the usual 42 hours for this time of year, Ericksen said.
``We're certainly not worried about the run being decimated or going extinct,'' he said.
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