Early cohos inundate trollers

Kings are elusive, but season's outlook remains positive

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2005

It's another oddly pleasant summer for Southeast Alaska fishermen who target the high-end salmon.

Southeast trollers looking to harvest a record-breaking quota of king salmon this summer have been smashed by an unusually early run of coho.

Juneau troll fisherman Mark Stopha reported on his Web log Tuesday, "Best coho and worst king salmon day of the trip. Over a hundred coho, but just four kings."

The fleet has been buffeted by heavy winds, too, somewhat slowing progress with the hook and line. But overall, participation is high and prices are looking positive.

Roughly 10 percent more troll boats are plying Southeast Alaska fishing grounds than in 2004, said Brian Lynch, a troll fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based in Petersburg.

"There are some phenomenal catches out there. Stuff that (the trollers) have never seen," Lynch said. "Some of these guys are going to do quite well this year," he said.

Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, feels a little more cautious. "It's still a mystery about how we are going to pan out," she said Wednesday.

The price for cohos increased in Sitka on Wednesday. Large coho were selling for about $1.25 per pound. The largest kings sold for $2.40 per pound.

Perhaps due to the sheer density of early cohos, the king salmon catch rate has been a bit sluggish in Southeast Alaska. So far, trollers have caught about 100,000 kings and the initial summer opening will not close down until they catch 163,000.

In contrast, the region's coho catch rate may turn out to be the largest ever during the initial king troll opening, which began July 1.

Last week's coho catch rate was more than double the 11-year average, Lynch said.

Some fishermen are finding it more lucrative to forget about the kings and target the smaller but more abundant cohos, he said.

"It's a funny year. Every year is different, right?" said Kelley, with the Alaska Trollers Association.

Trollers are wondering what is happening with the kings and where to find them, she said.

Southeast sport fishermen also complained about poor catch rates for king salmon this spring and summer.

Warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures and patterns with the food source may be a factor for the runs, Kelley said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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