The spring troll season ended this week with a low hatchery harvest and a 15 percent drop from last year in the number of participating fishermen, according to the Department of Fish and Game. As the summer season began Tuesday, some predicted the number of fishermen would remain lower than average.
Spring troll fishermen caught about 34,000 salmon in the season that ended Monday, said Brian Lynch, the salmon troll fishery management biologist for Southeast. About 36 percent of those were hatchery salmon, which are not subject to the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty Agreement. The treaty determines the number of kings that can be caught in Southeast Alaska waters. Some of those wild salmon are returning to Canadian rivers.
The hatchery catch was down this year, partly because it was diluted due to an abundance of treaty fish.
This year about 4,000 additional fish were caught in hatchery terminal areas. Last year's spring troll season yielded about 44,000 kings total, of which about 52 percent were hatchery fish.
The lower hatchery catch is significant because the spring troll season is intended to catch hatchery fish, whose harvest is not limited by the salmon treaty.
"Our hatchery contribution was low - lower than we had hoped," said Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. "That's a puzzle for us in the spring. It's been a real frustrating go of it; trying to figure out how to best access the fish we're raising."
Lynch said late-returning fish - both hatchery and nonhatchery - also contributed to the slow season.
"The entry pattern was much later than it was last year, and we were going around last year's patterns. We ended up closing (the fisheries) down early. Had we opened them later, we wouldn't have had to do that," he said.
But he said the only way to find out whether the fish are returning on schedule is to open the fisheries.
Lynch said 358 boats fished the spring season, compared with 423 last year.
"Price has a lot to do with it," he said.
The average price for king salmon was $1.57 per pound. Lynch didn't have figures for last year, but said the average price was higher this year.
Kelley said the reduced effort also could be affected by weather and better longline prices for groundfish.
"If the price is good, a lot of guys are going to go out and take that," she said.
Fish and Game is shooting for a harvest of about 146,000 kings in the first summer fishery, which opened Tuesday. That number will include about 141,500 treaty fish. The season runs through Sept. 20, and the second opening will occur in August.
Last year's first summer opening target was 155,000.
Masha Herbst can be reached at email@example.com.