Numbers released Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Fish &Game forecast a third straight year of low Chinook returns on the Taku River.
ADF&G expects only 4,700 Chinook will spawn on the Taku River in 2018. If that estimate turns out to be accurate, it would represent the smallest Chinook return on the Taku River since 1975 and the third year in a row returns failed to meet agency goals. Similarly low numbers are forecast on the Stikine River, with only 6,900 Chinook expected, well below the escapement goal range of 14,000-28,000.
The agency estimates the terminal run size in December. It represents the amount of adult Chinook they expect to spawn every summer based on fisheries data gathered during the summer months.
ADF&G hopes to see between 19,000 and 36,000 Chinook spawn to keep the run healthy on Taku River. If fewer than 19,000 fish return, Fish and Game often limits sport and commercial fishermen. They closed sport fishing for two months this year because of low returns and canceled commercial openings in 2016.
At this time last year, ADF&G estimated 13,300 fish would return in 2017. The December 2015 forecast predicted 29,200 fish would return in 2016.
Fish and Game announced with the forecast that it is “very unlikely” commercial fisheries directed at Taku River Chinook will open in 2018. Gillnet and seine fishermen won’t be affected much by this, as they make the majority of their money off chum and pink salmon, not Chinook. But trollers may suffer. Historically, Southeast trollers make a significant amount of money during one and sometimes two summer king salmon fishery openings.
The numbers were released by ADF&G’s commercial fisheries division. The sport fish division hasn’t yet announced how the low forecast will affect sport fishing. ADF&G instituted a blanket ban on Chinook retention last year when Chinook forecasts were more than two and a half times larger.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228, firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Twitter handle @KevinGullufsen.