Coho — or silver salmon — are identifiable by their white gum line. Unlike king salmon, which are regulated by an international treaty with Canada, most coho rear in Alaska’s streams and rivers. ADF&G says escapement targets for coho have been met. (USDA image)

Southeast trollers will have an extra ten days to target coho – or silver salmon – before the summer season officially comes to a close.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced the extension last Friday (9-15-23), pushing the end date for the season from the usual September 20, to September 30.

Last year, the story of summer trolling was a remarkable chum harvest. This year, the species in the spotlight is coho, or silver salmon.

“You know, this year will be the first year in probably five or six years that the trollers are looking to catch over a million cohos,” said Grant Hagerman, the area troll management biologist for Southeast Alaska. Chum runs are largely produced by hatcheries. And although chum runs were strong, the price of chum collapsed, forcing the fleet to reset, and shift its attention to coho.

“With the in-season collapse of that market, it changed things quite a bit and so effort dropped,” said Hagerman. “And with chinook closed, a lot more effort turned back to coho that we didn’t really have last year. We didn’t reach our chinook allocation, and the coho catch was down from season, because we had a third of the fleet that was fishing hatchery, chum salmon for a third of the summer. So, yeah, very different this year.”

In just the last few weeks, catch rates for coho have been more than double the long-term average – not just for trollers, but for gillnetters, too. And the department is seeing good escapement, as the coho who manage to get by the hooks and the nets are reaching their natal streams in strong numbers. 

Hagerman says the price bumped up later in the season, as coho became noticeably larger. Although the final price often isn’t settled by processors until after the season, Hagerman says it’s likely to come in around $1.80 or $2.00.

And while it’s not quite the bonanza of the 2022 chum season, coho fishing can feel like dependable income in an industry that’s inherently volatile.

“I mean, that was something incredible (the 2022 chum season), the $9- or $10-million that was caught over a six- or seven-week period,” said Hagerman. “I’m not sure if they’ve (coho) exactly made up for that but it was something that gave these guys an opportunity to fish on. Without a market for these chum and with chinook salmon closed for the season, it was it was good that these cohos were around.”

Many of the coastal areas along Baranof and Chichagof islands, and the Fairweather Grounds, will be closed during the extended season, due to the high abundance of king salmon. Trollers who want to target that species will only have to wait a couple of weeks: The winter season for chinook opens on October 11.