State forecasts another year of weak king salmon returns

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its forecast of the number of king salmon that could return to the Unuk, Taku and Chilkat Rivers in the summer of 2024.

The department did not release a forecast number for the Stikine River, citing insufficient data. “However, the terminal run is expected to be well below the escapement goal range of 14,000 to 28,000,” it said.

Stikine River king salmon returns fell below the lower bound of escapement goals each year from 1975-1979, as well as 1983, 1984 and 2009, and each year from 2016-2022 according to the department. Sport and commercial fishing in the area have been restricted for years in an effort to preserve and build back the river’s king salmon run.

The Board of Fisheries designated Stikine kings as a “stock of concern” in 2021.

In addition to the Stikine, the Board of Fisheries has determined that king salmon runs in several Southeast rivers — the Unuk (near Ketchikan), Taku (near Juneau), Chilkat (near Haines), Chikamin (east of Ketchikan) and King Salmon (on Admiralty Island), as well as Andrew Creek (a Stikine tributary) — are among “stocks of concern.”

The listings are due to “concern arising from a chronic inability, despite the use of specific management measures, to maintain escapement for a stock,” according to Fish and Game.

The state sets an annual escapement goal for each of the king runs — the number of salmon that should be allowed to escape through fisheries and return to their home streams to spawn.

The department last month estimated that 1,800 mature kings will return to the Unuk River in 2024; the escapement goal range for Unuk is 1,800 to 3,800 fish.

Unuk River king returns fell below the lower bound of the escapement goal in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022, according to department information.

The department forecasts that about 17,300 mature kings will return to the Taku River in 2024, falling short of the escapement goal of 19,000 to 36,000 fish. Taku returns fell below the lower bound of the escapement goal in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1983, 1999, 2007, 2012, 2013, and each year from 2016-2022, according to department information.

About 2,850 mature kings could return to the Chilkat River in 2024, within the target return range of 1,750 to 3,500 chinook. Chilkat king salmon returns fell below the lower bound of escapement goals in 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2022.

 

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