Southeast gillnet catch came in far below 10-year average

The Southeast salmon drift gillnet season officially closed Thursday, Oct. 12, with the state reporting the harvest came in below the 10-year average of 2013-2022 for all species other than chum salmon.

Though overall run strengths for all species other than king salmon “were generally good to excellent” in Southeast, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported Oct. 12, the drift gillnet harvest was weaker than usual for several reasons.

The state reported there were fewer commercial gillnetters working — 341 this year, down by 20 boats from last year and down even more from the 10-year average of 391.

This year’s dismal prices — as low as 10 cents a pound for pinks and 20 cents a pound for chum salmon — pushed some fishermen to stay onshore and save money on fuel and other expenses.

“Due to conditions, price for fish, cost of fuel — it wasn’t worth it to go out there and fish,” said Troy Thynes, a management coordinator for ADF&G in Petersburg.

As of Oct. 12, the Southeast drift gillnet fleet had harvested about 3 million fish, with chum salmon coming in at more than two-thirds of the catch. And while the chum catch was about 20% above the 10-year average, the king salmon harvest was not even one-third of the average; the sockeye catch was down almost 8%; coho was almost half the average; and pinks were down by about 40%.

The numbers released Oct. 12 count separately the salmon netted at hatchery terminal-harvest areas. That catch totaled 1.596 million fish, of which almost 90% were chums. The terminal-harvest chum catch of 1.467 million exceeded the 10-year average by about 70%.

Detailed numbers will be released in late November, which will include all commercial gear types.

Though the overall numbers were down, gillnetters caught more coho (41,800) in District 6, which is generally west and south of Zarembo and Etolin islands, than in any other district in Southeast, Fish and Game reported. The District 6 catch represented about one-third of the total Southeast gillnet harvest of coho.

This year’s total Southeast drift gillnet harvest was 129,200 coho, down from the 10-year average of 240,540.

King salmon production continues to languish in Southeast. It looks like escapement goals — the number of fish needed to spawn to maintain run strength — likely were met in just six of 11 river systems: the Alsek, Chilkat, Unuk, Chickamin, Blossum and Keta.

Thynes said low king runs have persisted for the past six to seven years, adding that it’s possible this year might actually being “a little bit of improvement.”

“Sockeye salmon runs were generally good throughout the region,” the state reported. Sockeye escapement goals were achieved for the Chilkat, Chilkoot, Taku and Tahltan rivers, and McDonald Lake. “Results are still pending for the Stikine River mainstem component.”

Coho salmon escapements are still being evaluated but are considered good.

Pink salmon escapement was “uniformly good to excellent” throughout the region with “an all-gear harvest of around 48 million fish,” the department reported, with seiners taking almost 99% of the catch.

The Juneau Empire contributed reporting for this story.


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