A troller in Sitka's ANB Harbor. A two-day opener this week likely finished the season's allocation for king salmon -- but ADF&G doesn't rule out a third opening later this month. (KCAW file photo)
A troller in Sitka’s ANB Harbor. A two-day opener this week likely finished the season’s allocation for king salmon — but ADF&G doesn’t rule out a third opening later this month. (KCAW file photo)

Southeast’s troll fleet has wrapped up what’s likely to be the end of its most lucrative fishery — summer kings. Early indicators are that the chinook were abundant during the two-day opener.

Deborah Lyons has been trolling off Sitka’s Baranof Island since 1985. She agrees the chinook were plentiful this year. And it’s a welcome change from the dire forecasts of recent years with record low returns and limited openers

“We had fish coming aboard four at a time on a line — and these are king salmon,” she said Thursday morning.

Lyons is also with the group Chinook Futures Coalition which advocates for higher salmon quotas for Alaska’s troll fleet. She says when the sun set on the fishing grounds, it was clear that the fleet was out in force.

“At night in the anchorage, it was just beautiful,” she recalled. “There was like 40 mast lights anchored behind Saint Lazaria. …You could see out behind Stika Point, other boats were out drifting. It was wonderful to see the numbers of fish.”

Conservation measures implemented in accordance with the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada limit the opportunity for the fleet to target king salmon

Southeast’s trollers had five days to target chinook in July. Under the Department of Fish and Game’s Southeast Alaska King Salmon Management Plan, that left 24,000 chinook to be caught in a second opener this August.

Sitka-based state area fisheries biologist Grant Hagerman says that target’s likely been hit in two days — but the agency won’t know for several weeks.

“We may possibly have a third chinook retention period for troll,” Hagerman said. “But that’s still to be determined.”

The troll fleet will continue to fish for other salmon species like coho and chum. But under regulation, fishermen must shake off the more lucrative kings that they might hook.

That’s not the case for non-resident anglers. Fish and Game had planned to limit visitors to catch-and-release until mid-September. But that’s been moved up. 

Bob Chadwick, Southeast’s regional coordinator for sportfish, says as of Friday, August 16, non-residents will be allowed to retain one king salmon that’s at least 28-inches long — for the rest of the year.

“We can resume the non-resident fishery and still stay within our allocation,” Chadwick said.

The management plan allocates about 25,800 chinook for the sport fishery. The waters around Haines and Skagway will remain catch-and-release for non-residents for another month. And regulations for Alaska resident anglers also remain unchanged.