A king salmon is laid out for inspection by Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor officials at last year’s Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. Despite some setbacks the derby will take place this year, though with some changes to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor officials at last year’s Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. Despite some setbacks the derby will take place this year, though with some changes to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Salmon derby soldiers on for 74th year

Reduced donations and pandemics won’t stop fishing

Clarification: Tickets will still need to be purchased to participate in the derby, but this year entrants will not have to have their tickets validated by derby staff. This article has been updated for clarity.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated there have been year-over-year declines in all salmon species in Southeast Alaska. There have been declines in all salmon species in Southeast with the exception of king salmon. The article has been updated to reflect the change. The Empire regrets the error.

The 74th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby will take place Aug. 14-16 this year, but like so many others, derby sponsors have had to adapt the event to take place during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The big message is; think about the social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands,” said Doug Larsen, president of Territorial Sportsman Inc., the derby’s sponsor. “Do everything you can to protect yourselves and to protect others.”

To that end, this will be the first year entrants will not have to show validated tickets proving a fish was caught during the official derby hours. The old method meant a lot of people congregating, Larsen said, eager to get their tickets and get fishing. Not having to get tickets validated will allow a larger time window for people to catch their fish, which will organizers are hopeful will mean less crowding at docks and launch ramps. Tickets will still be required, they just won’t have to be validated, according to Larsen.

“We’re just going to trust that our people are good, honest sportspeople who want to have fun and play by the rules,” Larsen said.

Additionally, fish will be turned in using landing nets, rather than having entrants disembark, Larsen said. All derby volunteers will be wearing masks and observing social distancing he said, and asked members of the public to do the same if they take part in the derby.

[Twenty-four pounder wins 2019 Salmon Derby]

The pandemic has also affected the derby’s prizes, Larsen said, as the typical donations from businesses have been less this year due to the economic hardship. Typically there would be as many winning fish as there have been years of the derby, with the top prize going to the heaviest fish and lesser prizes going all the way down to, in this year’s case, the 74th heaviest fish. But this year only the top 40 fish will be awarded prizes, Larsen said, but the 74th heaviest fish will still get a substantial prize.

Fish caught in the derby are donated to Alaska Glacier Seafoods who sell the fish and donate the profits to a scholarship fund. Entrants must decide whether to enter their fish or turn in a “scholarship fish” and receive a raffle ticket. Three raffle tickets are drawn at the awards ceremony and this year the prizes will be $5,000, $3,000 and $500 prizes.

Weigh-in fish winners are given a choice of 40 prizes, with first choice going to the heaviest fish and so on until the least heavy. According to the derby website, the top prize this year is a package worth more than $12,000, most of which is a $10,000 cash prize. The awards ceremony is typically held at either Centennial Hall or Elizabeth Peratrovich, but those facilities aren’t available this year, Larsen said, so the ceremony will be at the Juneau Yacht Club and open only to potential winners or their representatives.

Fish numbers in Southeast Alaska, with the exception of king salmon, have been weak this year, according to data from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute which releases weekly reports on salmon harvests. The report dated Aug. 1, 2020, shows year-over-year declines from last year in all salmon species except kings across Southeast, and the weekly report’s summary states, “weak landing persist in Southeast.”

ASMI’s weekly report shows a year-over-year growth of 18% from last year for king salmon in Southeast, but a 39% decrease statewide.

There will be a Facebook live stream of the awards ceremony, Larson said, but organizers wanted to keep congregations to a minimum.

Most of all, Larsen said, the organizers wanted the public to safely enjoy the event.

“The derby’s a busy time,” Larsen said. “I just want to say, please be patient with one another, there’s no rush.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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