Strangely behaving king salmon stocks baffle Alaska fishermen, scientists

Peculiar behavior among king salmon has left Alaska fishermen and scientists puzzled and concerned about the future vitality of the species in the state’s Southeast region.

King salmon returns have been low as of late, with the leading five Southeast rivers known for the largest king salmon runs – the Stikine, Taku, Unuk, Chilkat and Alsek – all falling short of their escapement goals, according to a report from the Keene (Alaska) Sentinel.

In light of plummeting numbers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released a series of dismal salmon forecasts for a half-dozen Southeast rivers along a 300-mile stretch of Alaska coastline, where king salmon are swimming out to sea and not returning to spawn.  

“There’s a big ocean out there,” Tad Fujioka, a commercial fisherman in Sitka, told the Sentinel. “And it’s kind of a black box.”

To accommodate for the drop in king salmon returns, fishermen, scientists, and officials are instituting closures for certain fisheries and new limits on catches. Alaska Department of Fish and Game authorities are recommending that three Southeast rivers be designated “stocks of management concern,” after failing to stabilize escapement goals over the past six years.

“We have these three stocks that are dire. But we have six others — maybe even seven or eight others — that are right on their heels,” Dan Gray, a state fisheries manager in Sitka, said. “We experienced the worst escapement levels we’ve ever seen in Southeast this year. And our forecasts are even worse.”

Next month, a meeting of Alaska’s Board of Fisheries in Sitka will involve a review of department recommendations aimed at stemming king salmon declines. 

“I know there’s going to be restrictions,” John Jensen, who chairs the board, told the newspaper. “How draconian we’ll get, that remains to be seen.”


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