By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

Wrangell fleet reports moderate sockeye, chum catches

 

August 16, 2023 | View PDF



Sockeye and chum runs have been hovering around average this season, according to local fishers, and the upcoming coho season is showing signs of promise.

For gillnetters Jacob and Keisha Rushmore, this year’s sockeye run has been underwhelming. “I think it’s hit and miss,” said Keisha. “One week it’s pretty decent, and another week there’s none to be found. It’s kind of a weird year. … You never really know what to expect.”

Jacob, who has been fishing for about 15 years, said sockeye have been “trickling” in this year, rather than appearing in large waves. There was “a consistent feed of sockeye, but there weren’t any big major weeks,” he said.

Their numbers are down a bit from last year, not much lower than they’ve been this decade. “As far as the Stikine goes, it’s been a while since we had a really good solid run of sockeyes,” he said. “This year versus last year … I probably caught half to two thirds of what I did last year. Probably closer to the half mark, as far as poundage and number of fish.”

As sockeye season winds down and fishermen prepare to catch cohos, Jacob is cautiously optimistic about the numbers. “I can’t really give a good estimate on that the (coho) runs are going to be but they … are kind of showing up in decent numbers, so hopefully, we’ll have a good run.”

“Sumner Strait has seen increasing (coho) catches, with Baht Harbor, Vank Island or the Elephant’s Nose all being good options,” Jeff Rice, the area sport fish management biologist in Petersburg, reported last week. “Coho marine catch rates will continue to improve over the next few weeks as the coho increase in weight and prepare to enter the streams to spawn. … It appears this might be a good coho year.”

Antonia Silva gillnets and trolls for chum salmon. Though it’s not a “banner year” as far as their numbers go, he’s observed a higher volume of fish than he has in the past couple of years. “The chum seem to have been more consistent and last a little bit longer,” he said. The season is “not amazing, but not terrible. I’ve seen much worse.”

The biggest problem facing fishermen now is not the volume of fish but the abysmal prices they’re fetching in the current market, Silva explained. Trident Seafoods dropped the price of Alaska chum to 20 cents per pound on Aug. 5 and the economic impact could be “devastating” for area fishers, said Silva.

Salmon prices are low across the state, particularly for chum, sockeye and pinks, as consumers have pulled back from seafood purchases, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

“It’s more of the economics, that’s the struggle right now,” Silva said. “I would say, on a rough estimate, that 80% of my salmon income is chum-related.”

Fishermen are “like farmers,” said Silva. “We take out a lot of loans and slowly pay them back over 15 to 20 years. We know that it’s not just going to affect our remainder this year, but it’s going to have a devastating effect next year as well. A lot of us can survive this year because the chum run … guys have done alright. Next year, the unknown is scaring everybody.”

Some fishers aren’t sure if they’ll be able to make their payments, let alone pay themselves. “I know a lot of people are worried about their future,” he added.

Silva encouraged Wrangell residents to only buy local seafood to support their fishing community. “Hopefully, we’ll find ways to weather the storm,” he said. “All of that helps.”

 

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