Summer of chum

Posted: Monday, August 31, 2009

It was a good summer for Douglas Island Pink and Chum, and also for Southeast fisherman. More than 1.6 million chum salmon were caught by sports and commercial fishermen and DIPAC, a hatchery official said.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

According to the DIPAC director of operations, Rick Focht, the king return was "as expected or maybe a little better" compared to the preseason estimate of 5,000 kings returning. Sockeye returns were down at the DIPAC Snettisham program and the coho return has just started, with 40,000 estimated to return to DIPAC or be caught by fishermen. But the star of the season was chum.

"The chum salmon return numbers were good, better than expected," Focht said. "It'll either be the second or third highest return on record for DIPAC and it also was a record season in terms of chum salmon in Taku Inlet and Stevens Passage.

"In particular, there was one week where gillnetters caught over 380,000 chums, which is way above anything else ever seen before. Just one of those unique set of circumstances where all the lucky stars lined up, good abundance and lots of boats so a lot of fishermen were able to catch a lot of fish."

Focht said that more than 800,000 chum were caught in the Taku Inlet and Stevens Passage area and more than 700,000 in the Lynn Canal area.

However, the chum were a bit smaller than usual, Focht said.

"Obviously, for whatever reason they weren't able to find as much food in the ocean. ... Not being biological oceanographers, we don't know the exact explanation but we've seen this happen once or twice before. The guess is that ... whatever occurred, or didn't occur, was either late last summer or early this summer."

The chum last summer were average or above average size, Focht said, adding that the weather may have been a factor for the smaller chums this year.

"The one thing that we did observe that might have been affected by a lot of the warm weather is that the chum salmon broodstock appeared to all ripen in a shorter time frame, so we had to make some adjustments to our egg take schedule to deal with that," Focht said.

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