A forest of trolling poles in Sitka's ANB harbor, July 2015. (Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)
The decision to restore winter trolling in April could catch some stakeholders off-guard. Many trollers may have hauled out for maintenance, or gone on vacation, after the season closed on March 15. (Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

Commercial trolling for king salmon will reopen on April 3 on the outside waters of Southeast Alaska, and could remain open for most of the month, following an emergency order by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game on Wednesday (3-30-22).

The move partially restores the traditional timeline of the winter troll fishery, which in 2018 was cut back by six weeks to March 15, in order to conserve stocks of wild salmon returning to Southeast Alaska’s major river systems.

Trollers will be able to fish until they catch 28,000 “treaty chinook,” or king salmon originating from areas outside of Alaska, as negotiated under the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. The total guideline harvest level — or GHL — for the winter troll fishery is 45,000 treaty kings.

Grant Hagerman, regional troll fish management biologist, says the Alaska Board of Fisheries at its March meeting gave ADF&G some room to work within the 2018 chinook action plans.

“The directive giving us the flexibility to to look into this was new this year as opposed to the last cycle where we had very clear directives that the fisheries would close on certain dates,” Hagerman said. “This is giving the department the flexibility to look either direction (i.e. either extending or shortening the season) in addition to what’s written in the action plans.

(Note: The Alaska Trollers Association had a hand in supplying language to the Board to revise the directive. See a copy of RC203.)

Hagerman says that genetic sampling and coded-wire tagging have  given managers a good picture of stock composition at this time of year, and there are significant differences between chinook moving along the outer coast, and those headed to inside waters. 

Waters open to winter trolling include the outer bays and passes from Cape Muzon on the southern tip of Dall Island, north to Sitka Sound, Cross Sound, and Yakutat Bay. 

April historically has been a good month for trolling, with improved weather and higher concentrations of king salmon available in open areas.

Although the opening is specifically designed to exclude chinook moving into inside waters, it’s not intended to exclude the trollers who live there. Despite the  short notice, Hagerman hopes that inside trollers will find time during the four-week opening to make the trip outside, and take advantage of the opportunity. 

“Springing this after being closed for several weeks, I’m sure some permit holders have made other plans in either vacationing or have done large boat projects now, anticipating that we would not have opportunities until May, and so that is unfortunate,” said Hagerman. “But, again, this is something that we will probably continue provide as an opportunity into the future for these fishermen in in April.”

The winter troll fishery will reopen on April 3, and remain open until closed by emergency order, or April 30, whichever comes first.