Petersburg Pilot -

Southeast gillnet and purse seine task forces meet in Petersburg


The Southeast Alaska Drift Gillnet and Purse Seine task forces met in Petersburg on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, to review the 2014 season and discuss the 2015 season.

On Tuesday, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) biologists from districts around Southeast presented a review of the 2014 season for various salmon species harvested by gillnetters.

Justin Breese, ADFG biologist from Ketchikan, reported District 1, Tree Point, had an above average harvest for cohos and pink salmon and a below average harvest for sockeyes and chums. Breese noted that participation in the district was low this year, in line with a decade-long trend.

“The overall number of people fishing down there has gone down. It’s been down for probably about ten years compared to what it has been before that period of time,” he said.

ADFG biologist Tom Kowalske reported on Districts 6 and 8, Prince of Wales and Stikine. Kowalske reported that in District 6 chum, sockeye and Chinook harvests were below the ten-year average, but coho and pink salmon harvests were good this year. He noted two factors affecting sockeye harvest rates: low effort by fishermen in the area due to an anticipated large chum return up north and a poor Tahltan forecast for the Stikine.

In District 8, “catches were below average for everything for the total harvest, and that’s kind of misleading,” Kowalske said. “Our effort was very low this year and it stayed below average through the course of the year.”

Salmon running up the Tahltan River, a tributary of the Stikine and a major contributor to the Southeast gillnet fishery for sockeye, faced a challenge early in the season as a natural landslide blocked passage for some time. Canadian officials airlifted salmon across the barrier until the water level allowed fish to pass.

Kowalske said that despite the obstacle escapements for the Tahltan River were above goal.

Steve Forbes, ADFG biologist out of Juneau, reported that harvests for all species except coho in District 11, Taku and Snettisham, were below average. Forbes said that the sockeye harvest was approximating an average catch while the chum harvest was far below average. The pink salmon harvest was particularly dismal, putting up numbers that were the lowest for the species since 1996.

Summing up activity in his district Forbes said, “That was the story of our season. We had a relatively small fleet. We had a fleet that was often targeting chum salmon in the south.”

ADFG biologist Randy Bachman reported on the District 15 harvest covering Lynn Canal. He painted a positive picture of the chum harvest in his region, which lead for all regions in Southeast, showing a photo heavily dotted with boats to open his presentation.

“During that week (week 27) there was a record-breaking 216 unique permits fished. And that’s kind of been a pattern we’ve seen in recent years. The majority of the gillnet fleet’s been coming up to the southern end of the district to capitalize on the large returns of chum salmon,” Bachman said.

Above average participation in the district lead to above average harvests of all salmon species except coho. In fact the 2014 season ranked the fourth highest harvest since 1960 in the district. It also pulled in an estimated $11 million in ex-vessel value, the second highest figure since 1998.

2014 Purse Seine report

The picture for Southeast seiners reflected a much more concentrated effort with District 4 near Ketchikan leading the pink salmon harvest for the region.

“District 4 was our strongest area…This year the majority of the pink salmon harvest occurred in the south end,” said ADFG biologist Scott Walker from the Ketchikan district.

There was high effort in the area with some 229 of 257 boats participating in the fishery for at least one opening in Districts 1-4, Walker said.

District 4 also saw a big return of sockeye salmon this year. “That was probably one of the biggest stories that we had on our districts, was a big return of sockeyes. We haven’t seen that in quite some time,” said Walker.

He reported that the coho harvest was also strong this year coming in above the ten-year average for all four districts, while the chum harvest was the opposite.

“Chums were a bit disappointing and below average in all the areas,” Walker said.

The fish in the Ketchikan area pulled boats from all over Southeast to fish in those waters. Biologists from the Sitka, Petersburg-Wrangell and Juneau management areas all saw a similar trend opposite that of Ketchikan with overall below-average harvests and lower effort in their fishing districts.

S.E. salmon escapements

Andy Piston, ADFG biologist out of Ketchikan, gave an overview of salmon escapements in Southeast.

Of 13 stocks of sockeye with formal escapement goals, 11 came within or surpassed the escapement goals. McDonald Lake came in slightly below goal and one location was unable to be counted this year. Piston noted several sockeye stocks that did very well this year including the Tahltan, Taku, Chilkoot and Situk stocks.

Summer chum escapements for 2014 came in below goal after a three-year consecutive run of strong wild chum escapement numbers. Of five fall chum escapement goals, all were met.

Pink salmon harvests and escapement numbers varied by sub-region. There were strong escapement numbers in the southern southeast sub-region this year. It was a bigger than expected year for pink salmon, much of which was harvested from the southern southeast subregion.

“About 80 percent of the total region’s harvest came from just Districts1-4, so the south end was very strong. This harvest was actually the third highest even-year harvest since statehood,” Piston said.

Piston characterized the escapement numbers for eight stock groups in the northern southeast sub-region as “extraordinarily weak,” adding that some were “the worst since statehood or the second worst since statehood.”

He concluded with the escapement numbers for coho in the region.

“The total region-wide abundance of coho was the highest ever and it certainly bore out in our escapements,” Piston said. Every formal escapement goal for coho stocks were met or exceeded.

“It was an extremely good year for coho,” he concluded.

The two task force groups will meet next in Sitka.


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