Spring king derby canceled, again

For the second year in a row, the Annual Spring King Salmon Derby has been canceled, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced Friday.

The move comes in response to the Board of Fishery’s decision this week to bar fishermen from retaining king salmon April 15-June 14 in the Juneau area, a restriction put in place to protect struggling king salmon stocks on the Taku, Chilkat and King Salmon rivers.

As a result, the council will not be able to operate the derby again and will lose the biggest chunk of revenue for their higher education Alumni scholarships.

“It’s troubling what’s going on out in the ocean,” central council’s Laird Jones told the Empire. “I hope people can figure it out so we can get the derby back on track.”

Seven hundred to a little over 1,000 anglers participate in the derby every year, Jones said, and compete against one another to see who can land the biggest king during the month of May, each buying a $35 ticket. Previous to last year, fishermen had competed in the derby for 20 years.

But in 2017, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down Juneau area sport fishing for the spring season with an emergency order. ADF&G anticipated a second-straight year of dangerously-low king salmon returns on the Taku River. ADF&G is calling for the lowest-ever return this year, as it expects only 4,700 king salmon to spawn on the Taku River, well below the management goal of 19,000-36,000 salmon.

To make sure enough king salmon get passed fishermen to spawn, the Board of Fisheries passed an “action plan” on Tuesday. It cuts king salmon fishing for sport, commercial and charter fishermen around Southeast.

Jones said the derby is CCTHITA’s biggest fundraiser for their scholarship program. CCTHITA typically gives out between 50-100 scholarships to college-bound youth. They’re supplemental: each one amounts to between $100-$300. Over the years, that assistance has piled up: the derby has helped raise $500,000 in scholarships for 1,500 students.

Jones said they’re hoping to replace it with a different fundraiser.

“We’re working on pulling something together,” he said.

Central Council was able to make up for the lack of funds last year by operating the “Only Fools Run at Midnight” race in place of KTOO, which normally hosts the race. KTOO is taking the race back over this year, Jones said, so CCTHITA will need to look elsewhere to make up for the loss of revenue caused by the derby’s cancelation.

A salmon-themed, fun run-walk event for late spring to early summer in Juneau is in the works, according to a CCTHITA release. More details will be announced once plans have been solidified.

CCTHITA President Richard Peterson, as well as Jones, expressed disappointment at the cancelation. But they added that the conservation of king salmon should be a priority.

“Although the Spring King Salmon Derby has been a great community event in Juneau and a source of funds for our Alumni Scholarship program, we cannot overlook that our king salmon are in trouble,” Peterson said. “Cancelling the derby to reduce interception is necessary and we are in full support of all efforts to help our struggling king salmon make their way back to their spawning grounds.”

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

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