Much of Juneau’s king salmon fishery will close this summer, because of a 2020 landslide

Salmon fills a tote in Juneau in August 2022. (Clarise Larson/for the Juneau Empire)

Sport fishermen in Juneau may be disappointed Monday, because king salmon will largely be off limits this summer. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced an emergency closure for most near-shore fishing areas around Juneau.

Douglas Island Pink and Chum, or DIPAC’s executive director Katie Harms said hatchery returns are expected to be quite low this year. That’s because most of the chinook that were supposed to come back were killed when a landslide severed the hatchery’s supply of freshwater from Salmon Creek during an atmospheric river in December 2020 that caused flooding and mudslides across the city.

“We had to prematurely release all those chinook salmon that were in raceways at the time,” Harms said. “They entered saltwater before they were biologically able to process saltwater and likely, mostly died.”

Most of the hatchery salmon come back when they are about five years old, so Harms said this summer’s low run was expected.

The closure includes Auke Bay, Fritz Cove, Gastineau Channel and areas around the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. Starting Monday at midnight, any king salmon caught in those areas must be released immediately. That policy will extend through the end of August.

Closing the sport fishery will allow more mature chinook to gather in Fish Creek Pond, which is one of the local hatchery release sites. The pond will be missing most of those five-year-olds, but there should be some 6-year-olds returning.

“And what we plan to do this year, is use seine nets to seine up the pond in mid to late July, when the vast majority of the fish have made it back. And they should just be milling in that pond waiting to be ready to spawn,” Harms said. “And we bring them back to the hatchery. We’ve done this in the past, in other years, so we know it can be successful if there’s enough fish there.”

Most of Juneau’s summer king salmon come from hatcheries, while most of the wild kings make their way through the area to up to the Taku River, earlier in the spring.

DIPAC aims to use fish from the pond to replenish the hatchery’s broodstock, which will help them to sustain summer king production in the future.

“I’m not sure we’ll get our full broodstock even with this closure in effect, but it’ll put us a lot closer to our goal,” Harms said. “Which would in turn make better fishing opportunity for those that want to fish in five years time.”

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