Southeast coho fishing below par

Posted: Wednesday, September 06, 2000

PETERSBURG (AP) -- After years of good silver fishing in Southeast Alaska, gillnetters and trollers have had to venture into outside waters to find coho this summer.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Leon Shawl said returns to outside areas have been fairly good, but not many fish swam into the Inside Passage.

''The overall signs are that for the inside area the coho runs are fairly weak,'' Shawl told CoastAlaska Radio News. ''On the outer coast they look quite strong.

Early in the season, the department projected a commercial harvest of 2.2 coho, about two-thirds from wild runs. The actual catch will probably come in at about 2 million fish, Shawl said.

''The run is quite a bit smaller than the 1990's average, which for the wild component was about 2.6 million,'' Shawl said. ''So if we're looking at maybe 1.5 million wild this year, that's down quite a bit.''

The likely explanation is that outer coast smolts had better marine survival than those in inside waters, Shawl said.

''There were probably poor marine conditions on the inside waters when these fish entered last spring''

Alaska Trollers Association Director Dale Kelley said it has been a hit or miss coho season for commercial fishermen after a few years of plenty.

''We've really had 10 years of extreme abundance,'' Kelley said. ''When you get back to a bit more average to a bit below average run, you really start seeing people feel the pinch. Particularly in light of this years king salmon quota.''

More and more trollers have come to depend on coho during years when the king salmon allocation is low.

But when runs are small, fisheries managers must make sure enough fish reach spawning grounds.

Shawl said most areas will reach safe escapement levels, but said there are some concerns at the southernmost end of the state.

Ketchikan area biologist Phil Doherty said there may be closures in the troll and gillnet fisheries in September to meet escapement goals.

''This week we're going to be fishing only two days there and that's somewhat unusual to be cutting back to two days,'' Doherty said. ''But that is because of our concerns for our cohos in the south end.''

Dan Ohmer, a plant manager for Norquest Seafoods said he expected a flood of coho this year, but adds that plenty of fish on the market means that fewer coho won't translate into higher prices.

''The coho market, right now, is being flooded by fish out of Cordova where our plant has been shipping out fresh van after fresh van,'' Ohmer said. ''So it's really hard to see where prices are going to make up for this lack of volume.''

Gillnetters are getting about 50 cents per pound for coho, while trollers are seeing prices in the dollar range.

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