Baranof Blog & Fishing News
Update: King salmon sport fishing in Ketchikan opens a month early
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game just released changes to their 2018 terminal harvest area, and the relax in regulations is giving local sport fishermen a welcome sigh of relief. In 2018 the terminal harvest area has been established from Mountain Point to Carrol point where the limit will be one king salmon starting May 15th. This allows us to target and retain kings a month earlier than originally planned.
Mountain Point is roughly four miles from our dock, and while I’m sure there’ll be a whole lot of boats fishing in this area, it will be legal to keep kings 28” and over. Mountain Point has historically been a place to hold fish as they move through; given its location, it is very unlikely that Unik River kings come through the area.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently released salmon regulations concerning the area around Ketchikan in which we fish. The changes are indeed historic, as these are the strictest king salmon regulations ever seen in the area. For the first time since king salmon has been protected by the state, they have closed the retention of king salmon from April 1st to June 15th. Until June 15th, king salmon will be strictly catch and release, regardless of size.
According to the ADF&G, these regulations are necessary because several runs of wild king salmon throughout Southeast Alaska are at an all-time historic low. The Unik river, in particular, is the main concern of biologists in the Ketchikan area. This river has traditionally seen the largest king salmon runs in Southern Southeast Alaska, with some runs exceeding 10,000 fish. This year biologists are expecting Unik River King salmon to number in the hundreds. These regulations are partly because the ADF&G is legally required to regulate this fishery because of a treaty with Canada.
While the news from the Unik is disappointing, hatchery fish, on the other hand, are not fairing quite so badly in our area. Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (S.S.R.A.A.) was formed and funded by commercial fishermen, and it currently operates eight hatcheries that release millions of salmon in the Southeast Alaska area every year. While several species are released, they are expecting a king salmon return which is much more optimistic than the doom and gloom of the Unik River. The travesty of the situation is that while the ADF&G is required to protect the Unik river salmon, it’s impossible to tell the difference between these wild fish and SSRAA’s hatchery fish. This creates a situation where commercial fishermen, who have invested time and money in producing these hatchery runs, are tied up at the dock because of our regulations. In 2017 king salmon news was consistently bad, with many calling it the worst year ever recorded. It was surprising that our company seemed to have its best year ever. All we can attribute it to is the lack of commercial pressure.
While it’s technically not illegal to fish for king salmon before June 15th, the fish must be released into the water; Alaska laws consider a fish brought into the boat as “retained.” This is viewed by some as ethically questionable due to the unquestionable mortality rate when playing kings close enough to pull the hooks. Needless to say, there will be no pictures of clients holding king salmon during the protection period for ethical and legal reasons. My position is, that while I would be willing to enthusiastically pursue kings before June 15th if a client had a dream of fighting a king, I’ll be recommending spending the day fishing for halibut.
There’s no way to spin this as good news for folks planning a king fishing trip in the Ketchikan area, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. While fishermen arriving within the regulated period will need to adapt their expectations, they won’t be doing it alone; please call us or email me directly if you’d like to toss around some ideas on planning your fishing charter. For those outside the restricted period, don’t be surprised if you have greater success than your friend did last year.
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