In less than an hour on Friday, Mamba Tuiqalau had already landed six coho salmon.
On any other day this season, he would have had to quit. Previous to Friday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game allowed anglers fishing hatchery silvers in a designated area near Juneau to catch six coho a day.
But starting Friday and lasting through October, that number doubles to 12 within certain boundaries (a map can be found with this story online). Hatchery coho returns have been productive, allowing Fish and Game to liberalize coho fishing rules.
ADFG released the emergency order Friday. On an outgoing tide that day at the Wayside Dock, Tuiqalau said he was pleased not to have to head home. He had hit the six-fish limit every day that week.
“There are schools and schools going back and forth. For sure there’s more coho this year than last year,” Tuiqalau said.
There are no firm numbers yet, but early indications are that Sheep Creek hatchery coho marine survival rates — the percentage of fish that return versus those that leave — may have doubled or more this year compared to 2017.
Managers also believe that the vast majority of coho in Gastineau Channel right now are hatchery fish. Douglas Island Pink and Chum, the hatchery that produces coho at Sheep Creek, has all the adult fish they need to produce another run, said ADFG Assistant Area Management Biologist David Love.
That’s what hatchery managers refer to as broodstock. Now that DIPAC has all the broodstock it needs, and Fish and Game is confident an increase in fishing opportunity will affect mostly hatchery fish, they’re allowing fishermen to catch more of what’s left in Gastineau Channel.
And there’s a lot left.
“They’re coming back in very good numbers,” Love said.
Without a large and expensive study of the ocean environment, Love said managers can only guess why this year’s survival rates are so strong. Ocean temperature, food supply and competition all play a factor. It could be any or all of these that have helped this year’s Sheep Creek hatchery stock to flourish.
“We just know that they’re coming back as adults very strongly,” Love said.
The new rules last through Oct. 31 — effectively, the rest of the local coho season. They don’t apply to a small area in Auke Bay.
But at the Wayside Dock, fishermen could take home more than most could carry.
Roger Castillo fished on the beach below Tuiqalau. He snags coho for exercise and gives most of them to his neighbors. He smokes the fish he does keep and prefers rainy fishing days to sunny ones.
With the increased limit, he’ll double his casting cardio.
“I’ve only been here an hour, I got five. That’s quite a bit of fish,” Castillo said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at firstname.lastname@example.org and 523-2228. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.