“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” Neil Bohr
Two Big Questions:
- Quality of the fishing
- We expect another excellent year of king fishing. 2014 will be our 22nd year and we’ve seen very little but excellence in this fishery.
- We expect a return to normal bag and annual limits – one king per day and at least 3 kings per year for the entire season. We don’t expect any extraordinary measures to conserve kings, ala 2013.
Chinook (king) salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska derives its richness from diversity of the runs. Our kings come from nearly countless sources including Tillamook Bay, Oregon at the southernmost end, to the Columbia River, coastal stocks of Washington, West Coast Vancouver Island, the interior waters of northern British Columbia, hatcheries in Southeast Alaska and the big trans-boundary rivers that flow from Canada then enter the ocean in Southeast Alaska. To use a financial analogy, we enjoy a well diversified chinook portfolio that produces high, stable yields.
The diversified stocks we enjoy are managed under an international treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Each year, a complex statistically derived number called the Abundance Index (AI) is derived to reflect the overall abundance of chinook salmon for the coming season. The preseason AI came in low in 2013, thus we had progressively more strict regulations regarding retaining chinook over the course of last summer. The experience on the fishing grounds and the actual returns this fall suggest that the AI was off to the low side. Big returns of salmon have been seen throughout the range, including a near record return to the Columbia.
Additionally, we saw a lot of undersize chinook – like massive numbers – that suggest a strong incoming group for 2014. All of this points to an AI in 2014 which will allow for a return to normalcy on the regulation front.
Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)
Most everyone has heard of El Nino, a short term (couple of year) warm water event in the North Pacific. There is also a longer term sea surface temperature phenomena that lasts 10 years or more – the PDO. When we’re in a warm phase of PDO, ocean productivity increases to the north and west in Alaska. The cold phase favors southernmost Alaska, British Columbia, and the lower 48. We’ve been experiencing predominantly PDO negative (cold phase) since 2008. This should have a very positive effect on chinook stocks that feed in the southern Gulf of Alaska – the waters adjacent to Sitka.
Chinook won’t be the only beneficiaries if the ocean remains cool and productive off Southeast Alaska. Coho runs are also positively impacted as are chums and pinks. One oceanographer we spoke with suggested we’re at the beginning of what could be a decade of higher salmon production in our backyard.
All indicators are positive for chinook in 2014: The fishing should be excellent and the regulations will ease back to normal. We won’t get official word on this until next April, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on this one.