The next year may see some weak runs for kings in Southeast.
Managers are forecasting lower than average numbers for the Chilkat, Taku, Stikine, Unuk, and King Salmon Rivers.
Deputy Director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Commercial Fisheries, Forrest Bowers, says stocks in Southeast have been shrinking since the mid-90s.
He says if salmon continues to fall beneath a river’s escapement goal on a regular basis, it may get the label “stock of concern.” And when that happens, Bowers says the first management measures to follow are restrictions to fishing areas.
“We would look at the distribution of that stock as it’s migrating through the various fishing districts, and we might restrict fishing time and areas where that particular stock is known to be in high abundance at certain times.”
He says that could mean closures, less fishing time for that area, or non-retention.
But the response to the declines is different from the cause. Bowers says ADF & G had continued to meet its escapement goals until just a few years ago.
“That tells me that harvest has not been a major driver in the decline because we haven’t really changed our harvest policies in that time period. Something else is going on, and we think it’s related to survival in marine waters.”
He says possible factors could be food availability, predation, or warming waters.
Bowers says some Southeast stocks stopped meeting all their escapement goals in 2012, notably the Unuk, King Salmon, and Chilkat rivers.
As a result, he says the department recommended to the Board of Fisheries that those three rivers be counted under stocks of management concern. The board will review action plans for the rivers at its meeting next month in Sitka.