King salmon quota for 2016 is out at 355,000 fish. (Flickr photo/Kegger)

The Southeast Alaska king salmon quota for 2016 is out and it’s already looking better than last year. In 2015, no final harvest limit was ever announced, which left commercial fishermen in the dark as to how many fish they were targeting. 

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently announced that the harvest limit will be 355 thousand kings for all gear types, commercial and sport. That’s nearly 18 thousand above the harvest from last year.

Patti Skannes is fish and game’s  regional troll management biologist in Sitka. She says the high number speaks volumes.

“They indicate that they have a good abundance of fish and I expect that we’ll have a good season coming up,” she said. “I expect that we’ll be able to fish in both July and August.”

Last summer, Southeast commercial trollers only fished for kings during one eight-day opening in July. Skannes says it was an unusual year.

“The harvest was of a size that didn’t allow a second opening,” she said.

The quota is based on a combined forecast of US and Canadian chinook runs, set forth under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Fish and Game didn’t announce a final quota last year because the Pacific Salmon Commission, which implements the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty, could not agree on an estimate of returning Chinook salmon.

When they did come to an agreement, Alaska challenged the commission, saying their estimate was too low, but eventually agreed to fish under those numbers to remain in compliance.

According to the fish and game, the actual returns of Chinook salmon last summer, especially to portions of the Columbia River, exceeded forecasted levels.

Skannes says the harvest quota only includes hatchery-produced fish not from Alaska, aka “treaty fish.”

“We can fish and we harvest fish that are treaty fish that count against us towards our quota but we also catch our own hatchery produced fish along with them and most of those don’t count towards our treaty quota, in other words they’re almost like bonus fish. We can catch them in addition to the treaty fish that we catch.”

On average, she says, there are 60,000 “bonus fish” from Alaska hatcheries each year.

The southeast king fishery is made up of different stock groups, originating from rivers in Alaska, Canada, Washington and Oregon. And Skannes says the returns are looking good for the stocks that Southeast tends to harvest.

The summer commercial troll quota will be be announced closer to July, after the harvest from winter and spring fisheries is subtracted from the troll treaty allocation of 263,197 Chinook.

Commercial and sport fishermen are not allowed to keep kings that are less than 28 inches long.

Fish and Game recently updated sport fishing regulations, increasing the resident bag and possession limit from two to three kings for this season.

The Southeast spring troll season for kings opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday (4-15-16).