Weak returns and hot weather made this summer a tough one for fishermen in southeast Alaska. During the 2013 commercial fishing season, state records were broken for both chum and pink salmon with total pink harvest numbers exceeding 219 million fish, while rainfall reached record high levels. “My best year was five years ago,” said commercial fisherman, David White. “There was a huge abundance of humpies and also chum salmon. My worst year was two or three years after that.” Lack of rain in Southeast Alaska has contributed to a low 2018 commercial harvest for some species in certain areas. This included a drop of about 70 million pink salmon, according to Fish and Game. “That worst year, there was no rain.” said White. ”And when it finally did rain there was a lot of freshwater on top. That contributed to the fish not coming in from the open ocean. That was one theory.” This year, the first wave of chum and pink salmon did not come into the Ketchikan Creek spawning grounds until late August. Typically the creek is flooded with fish by mid July. Unscheduled return of salmon benefits the immediate year, but it disrupts harvest numbers in the following years. “In my 18 years of salmon fishing, it’s pretty predictable that there is going to be a run and the fish are on their way some place, they are on a mission,” said White. “It’s not like they don’t come back, but you never know what kind of conditions are happening out in open ocean. There have been some theories that some runs were damaged because there was not enough feed in the ocean“. Salmon returning unscheduled effects runs and harvest totals. “In 2013, there was 4 year old and 5 year olds coming back, that’s why we had such a big year.” said White. “As I recall, that’s why the next year was not very strong because some of those fish had come in a year early.” “Total harvest numbers are down over 30% across Alaska, with Southeast being 67% below historical averages,” according to Fish and Game. “Most of the harvest shortfall has come in the form of poor pink salmon returns to streams and rivers.” Sport Struggles Salmon have been limited across the board, including sport fishing. Some areas were closed for king salmon fishing entirely, while others were limited to one king salmon per day.” For the first time in 70 years, the king salmon derby was changed to a silver salmon derby. The future of Alaska’s fishing industry is unpredictable. “Fishing was slow,” said Kayhi junior Devin Dalin. “We had to go further out to find good amounts of fish. Even then, it was still spotty. Local fishing grounds have been unusually crowded throughout the entire season” Despite the derby being a silver salmon based event, many fisherman targeted king salmon. “Catching cohos is fun, but after awhile it wears off,” said Dalin. “The fight of a 15 pound king dwarfs that of a coho. When you know and realize you have the fish that everyone wants (king salmon) it is a good feeling, even if you can’t turn it in for any type of prize.” Fishing resorts offering daily boat rentals noticed the struggles as well. “There was a slight decline in returning out of state fisherman renting boats,” said Carter Thomas, Alaska Sportfishing Expeditions. “A good amount of people still rented boats, but the number of fish brought back was much lower than usual.” Every corner of the industry is observing changes. State efforts paired with enhancement hatcheries will help to preserve sustainable harvest numbers for the future.
For the first time in 20 years, the Alaska Fish and Game raised the prices to buy a hunting and fishing license. Fishing licenses have been raised to $29 from $24 for a resident of the state and for a non-resident, a 14 day fishing license will go up to $50, double the price of original. Hunting licenses are now increased to $45 from the original price of $25. You might be thinking “What the heck? That’s another $20!” but just be thankful you are a resident. If you’re a non-resident, you get to pay $160, terrible price huh? That’s what I thought when I was looking at all the prices, then I decided to do some research on prices in other states and I changed my mind. Be thankful that you don’t live in California or Oregon, if you are a big hunter. California’s price for a resident hunting license is $47.01 and $163.65 for a non-resident. On top of that, a resident has to pay $31 PER TAG and non-residents get to pay an astonishing $276.05 per tag. Yeah, no thank you. If you live in Oregon, it doesn’t get much better. Residential hunters pay $32 for a license while non-residents pay $160.50 for a license. Also, if you are a resident wanting to buy one buck tag, it’s $26.50 and for a non-resident to buy just one buck tag it is $414. Down south they have some crazy prices compared to up here in Alaska, especially if you’re a non-resident. I couldn’t even imagine paying that much for only one tag. I was going to put Montana in here but even wanting to get a license there requires a good deal of work and is incredibly complex.
Jackson Pool: Grundens is the best outdoor brand. It’s the perfect gear for rugged Alaskans. Grundens gear keeps you dry and warm, while also being comfortable. Whether it’s fishing, hunting, or hiking, I always have my rain coat, rain pants, and my favorite hat, which all happen to be Grundens. As long as I live, I’ll be sporting my Grundens.
Alec Simmons: Sitka Gear hands down is the best outdoor gear money can buy. It’s able to handle the weather in Alaska, as well as in warmer conditions, where it enables comfort to users. I have had no problems with the gear over the years. I have the Timberline pants as my outdoors pant. The Gore-Tex knee pads are rugged and are perfect for the timber or alpine. The Kelvin Lite hoody and an underlayer coat called a core lightweight hoody which match well while I sport my Timberline pants. With the gear I have comfort has never been a problem and it has kept me warm in my time wearing them outdoors.
Jack Carson: The best outdoor brand is no doubt Patagonia. I have used plenty of Patagonia in the past years whether it is fishing, hiking, or backcountry skiing. Patagonia beats The North Face or REI because Patagonia has more to offer on several different levels of outdoors. North Face is great, I love it, but they don’t have a fishing section or make waders like Patagonia does, that’s why Patagonia has the one up on North Face. It’s always a great feeling knowing that your gear you wear won’t you down, and that’s why I wear Patagonia.
Depending on who you talk to, 2016 was a terrible season for salmon. Julie Landwehr, an Oceanography and Marine Biology teacher, said this poor return could be part of a longer trend. “In my opinion, 2013 was great year, while 2016 was a bust,” she said. “And I fear that they will stay low.” Though pink salmon numbers were low, the salmon that did return, were large. The state record was broken twice in a 3-day period on the Kenai River, the largest was a 13-pound 10.6 oz, behemoth. Landwehr said this makes sense. “Big fish correlate small numbers.” Social Sciences teacher and local fisherman Dave Mitchell was disappointed in the silver return this year. “It was definitely a down year for silver fishing in Ketchikan. Charter fishermen and processors alike. The silvers just never showed up, it is usually easy to get a limit this time of year, but that wasn’t the occasion.” But it might not just be doom and gloom. D Jay O’Brien, also a science teacher, has confidence salmon returns will improve and that this is just part of the natural ebbs and flows. “I think that we are going to bounce back in fish numbers and as the charts or data shows in the past we have been low before,” he said. It still begs the question, what caused the dip? Many believe it is because of the warm weather in recent summers while O’Brien is focused on the next generation of salmon. “The warm stretches we have cause creek levels to go down, and egg deposition for salmon goes down.” But once fish reach the ocean, they aren’t in the clear. “The kings have been declining for many years,” Landwehr stated. “But ‘The Blob’ (Pacific Ocean warm water) is directly involved with numbers, salmon may have moved, possibly scattered because of chemical changes, or they couldn’t get enough food.” The food count for fish and other marine species is also a theory, O’Brien noticed a deficit in herring numbers. “When you put extra stress on herring, like the opening of Vallenar Bay 5 years ago, that feed will start to go down,” O’Brien said. “It feeds so many other species, that it could manifest itself in the size of the fish that we see and catch.” So, what can we expect for the future of our region’s rich fishing history? Well, there are two opinions on this matter, Landwehr believes that our state should weigh our options and expand more. “They need to continue to focus on dive fisheries, keep diversifying, stop closing in on salmon specifically.” On the other hand, O’Brien has hopes for the future. “We have management intact, we have monitoring, and that gives me hope, with an intact ecosystem, I think we can bounce back.”