Gillnetters perplexed by poor sockeye catch

Few participating in Lynn Canal, Taku Inlet fisheries

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

Gillnetters in Lynn Canal and Taku Inlet are glum about their chum and sockeye catches this summer.

"There should have been more fish," said Jim Smith, a Juneau fishermen who was perplexed by the scarcity of sockeye in Taku Inlet on a recent trip.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Smith, a crewman on the Juneau gillnetter The Big Deal, tried for sockeyes returning to streams around Snettisham Hatchery 30 miles south of Juneau and was similarly disappointed.

"The fish were small and there weren't many of them," he said.

Because there aren't many chums and sockeyes filling their nets this summer, not as many gillnetters are participating in the Lynn Canal and Taku Inlet fisheries, state regulators reported this week.

The average size of the gillnet fleet in Taku Inlet at this time of the season is 155 boats but only 55 boats participated last week. Sixty-six gillnet boats fished in Lynn Canal last week, compared to the average 74, said Scott Kelley, regional commercial fisheries management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Those who are fishing have to battle against an early flood of large pink salmon, which "most gillnet fishermen aren't keen on," Kelley said.

Sockeyes are the bread and butter for Juneau's Taku gillnet fleet.

"It's the main money maker," Smith said.

The king salmon fishery, revived this spring after a 30-year hiatus, was "a bonus."

Unfortunately, the regular season isn't panning out with the kind of catches the gillnetters need to pay their bills, said Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen's Alliance.

The high cost of gasoline is only making it more difficult, she said.

One bright spot: Sockeye prices are 10 to 20 cents higher than last year, at roughly $1.10 per pound, Kelley said.

Also, an adequate number of sockeyes are escaping to spawn upriver, he said.

Other than that, "The normal season has not been very good at all," Kelley said.

As of last Saturday, the cumulative catch for Taku sockeyes stood at 28,200. The 10-year average is 90,000 fish, according to Fish and Game. The cumulative catch for chums was about 45,000 and the average is 250,000.

The cumulative catch for Lynn Canal sockeyes stood at 14,000. The 10-year average is about 54,000. The cumulative catch for chums in the canal was about 116,000. The average is about 400,000.

Biologists said they suspect that an unknown, near-shore event in the ocean may have harmed the sockeye and chum salmon.

Also, 4-year-old hatchery salmon raised as fry in Juneau-area net pens likely were harmed by the dry and freezing spring conditions in 2002.

"It does appear that (poor weather in 2002) had further-ranging affects than we originally thought," said Eric Prestegard, executive director of Douglas Island Pink and Chum, which runs several regional hatcheries.

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