Tim Berry, a Michigan resident visiting Juneau, fishes on a dock Monday near the Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc.’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. A ban catching king salmon near the hatchery and some other Juneau waters is in effect until Aug. 31. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tim Berry, a Michigan resident visiting Juneau, fishes on a dock Monday near the Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc.’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. A ban catching king salmon near the hatchery and some other Juneau waters is in effect until Aug. 31. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Local king salmon ban not expected to have big impact on summer fishing, but long-term concerns remain

Ban due to 2020 landslide that caused hatchery pipeline break, disrupting multiyear spawning cycle

A ban on king salmon fishing in effect in many Juneau-area waters until Aug. 31 was expected due to a 2020 landslide that severed the freshwater supply to a local hatchery and thus killed off most of the chinook expected to return, according to officials.

However, some charter fish operators and the head of the Golden North Salmon Derby said they don’t expect the ban to affect their activities much because the boats involved typically go beyond the boundaries where king salmon fishing was prohibited as of Monday.

An emergency order issued Thursday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game states king salmon fishing is off-limits in Auke Bay, Fritz Cove and Gastineau Channel. In addition, snagging of all species is banned within a 300-yard radius of the dock at Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc.’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery.

The hatchery is the reason for the ban, due to a Dec. 2, 2020, landslide that severed a pipe between Salmon Creek and the hatchery, Katie Harms, the facility’s executive director, wrote in an email Monday.

“Due to no water entering the hatchery pond, the Brood Year 2019 Chinook salmon that were at the hatchery at the time were released before they were able to process saltwater, and the vast majority of them died,” she wrote. “The last two years, we saw poor coho returns in Gastineau Channel from that same incident. This year, we’re seeing the impacts to the DIPAC produced Chinook salmon. The Chinook salmon stock DIPAC raises return as mostly 5-year-old fish, so with this 5-year-old component missing, we need every large fish to hopefully make our goals.”

The likely low population of hatchery fish has long been anticipated by state fish and game officials due to the yearly cycles of the species, but the timing of Thursday’s emergency order was based on an evaluation of where boundaries needed to be drawn to ensure the likelihood of a sufficient returning spawning population, said Daniel Teske, Juneau Area management biologist for the department’s Division of Sport Fish.

“We just ended up having to expand the closure area because things are looking very, very poor in terms of a return,” he said.

The intent of the closure is to ensure a return to normal spawning production for future cycles, although “whether we’re going to hit that mark or not it’s tough to say right now,” Teske said.

Harms, in her email, noted “if we do not achieve the Broodstock goal at the hatchery this year, it is likely there will be significant sportfish closures again in 5 years time.”

But while local king salmon fishing may not be at a peak this year, there is good news, she added.

“We do expect a large coho salmon return for the Juneau area this year,” she wrote. For those sport fishermen who may not be able to catch Chinook this year, be ready for some coho fishing this late summer and fall.”

The ban shouldn’t significantly affect this summer’s charter fishing tours, said Kevin Burchfield, owner of Lost in Alaska Adventures.

“Once it opened up areawide most of us were fishing outside of those areas anyway,” he said Monday.

Similarly, Ryan Beason, chair of the Golden North Salmon Derby, said Monday this year’s event scheduled Aug. 9-11 is likely to involve boats that typically fish outside the areas defined by the ban.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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