Southeast commercial trollers have caught about 10 percent fewer hatchery kings this spring than at this time last year. But with three weeks left in the season, there still is time to rack up the numbers, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.
"Over all Alaska the hatchery (catch) increased 10 percent in the last three to four weeks of the fishery last year," said Brian Lynch, the salmon troll fishery management biologist for Southeast.
The spring troll fishery targets hatchery king salmon, as opposed to "treaty fish." Treaty fish are nonhatchery king salmon subject to the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty Agreement, which governs the number of kings that can be caught in Southeast Alaska waters. Some of those wild salmon are returning to Canadian rivers.
The spring fishery "is really just to provide opportunity for the trollers, and we want to be able to provide that opportunity in a way that maximizes the harvest of Alaska hatchery fish return," said Doug Mecum, director of Fish and Game's Division of Commercial Fisheries. "Really early on when these hatchery programs were envisioned, we thought it would be a lot easier to harvest these fish than it really is."
The problem is that when trollers go fishing, they catch hatchery fish and treaty fish. Once the treaty-fish ceiling is met in a particular area, that area has to be closed to all trolling, no matter how few hatchery fish have been caught, Mecum said.
This year, Fish and Game is operating 27 separate spring fishery areas scattered from Icy Strait near Hoonah down to Ketchikan. Last year there were 30 areas, Lynch said. The spring troll fishery opened April 20 and is set to close June 30.
The Shelikof Bay area, about 20 miles from Sitka, was closed last week because the treaty-fish limit had been met.
Masha Herbst can be reached at email@example.com.