Southeast fishermen say chinook limits will hit them hard

Posted: Friday, May 05, 2000

PETERSBURG (AP) -- Commercial and sportfishing interests say new king salmon harvest rates could threaten their economic lives.

The Department of Fish and Game cut sport fishing bag limits in half. Residents are allowed one fish per day and nonresidents can take home a total of two kings per year.

Kirk Thomas, a lodge owner based in Ketchikan, said the reduction will mean cancellations and the loss of thousands of dollars.

''It's devastating to a business like mine,'' Thomas told KFSK-radio. ''We pre-sell all of our packages, and everybody all over Southeast does, and of course we sell those packages based on what we know to be true at the time. We are extremely nervous right now.''

The reduced bag limit is a precursor to an announcement expected later this month that the annual harvest limit for kings under the Pacific Salmon Treaty is expected to be about 150,000 for all commercial gear groups.

Last year commercial trollers were limited to 198,000 fish as Alaska started managing king salmon under the treaty's abundance-based approach.

Seeing the number drop again was a disappointment for the commercial fleet and about all it can take, said Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers Association associate director.

''In terms of a fleet that's looking for stability now and in the future, it's a tremendous blow,'' Kelly said. ''It seems that we have done nothing but gone backwards ever since this treaty was signed and even before.''

Alaska's allowable catch under the treaty is based on abundance of stocks in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

Fish and Game Department troll biologist Mark Stopha said returns of king salmon to the west side of Vancouver Island have prompted the lower number this year. He said Canada also will be restricting catches.

The expected 150,000-fish limit already has been chipped away by the winter's troll fishery. About 31,000 fish caught over the winter will be subtracted from the troll fleet's share of the overall catch.

Trollers believe there are more fish to be caught and Kelly said she is frustrated that there are no alternatives She said the lower number is related to lower returns of Vancouver Island hatchery fish, not wild fish.

Wild or hatchery does not matter said Dave Gaudet, Fish and Game assistant commissioner. He said Alaska signed on to an aggregate abundance management strategy that includes both hatchery and wild stocks. Gaudet said the plan could pay off in the long run.

Thomas said severely limiting the sportfish bag limit is not the preferred alternative. He said sportfishing interests were told there would be an opportunity to discuss other options.

Thomas said if the charter operators are going to be strictly limited, it should be done area by area. Communities such as Ketchikan, Juneau, Wrangell and Petersburg, should not be lumped with outside coast communities, such as Sitka and Craig, where more treaty fish are caught, Thomas said.

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