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  • Writer's pictureJess

July Back Deck Update

Hi everyone! Whew, July has been a rollercoaster of a month. Since it's been a while since we've hopped on here, let's start from the beginning.

On July 1st, our salmon season opened for both king and coho salmon. Our first "king opener" lasted 6 days: July 1st through July 6th. The king opener is always an exhausting rush of adrenaline. The days are long; hooks are in the water before 3 am, and we don't pull them until close to midnight. There's no time to fuss around with anchoring up in early July -- we just run a few miles away from the fleet, pop our boat into neutral, and drift around for a few restless hours before waking up and doing it all over again. Extra points for Captain Caleb if we wake up in the place we want to set our hooks in the morning; but occasionally we'll drift miles away from the fishing grounds, and have to run back to where we want to fish in the morning (further cutting into our precious few hours of sleep).

We should take a moment to explain our "king salmon openers". Since king (chinook) salmon are highly migratory, management is a little more complicated. Example: for one given king salmon... is it Alaska's fish because it grows and feeds here? Is it Canada's fish because feeds there, too? Is it Washington's fish because it will spawn there? And sometimes we don't know whose fish it is, because we don't know where it came from of where it's going. Effective, sustainable management requires cooperation between Alaska, Canada, Washington, and Oregon - as well as cooperation between local fish and game, state agencies, tribal entities, various user groups (commercial, sport, subsistence), and sub user groups (commercial hook and line vs. commercial net, etc). Take home message: IT'S COMPLICATED.

What this means for us is: the Southeast Alaska troll fleet is allocated about 119,000 king salmon for the summer of 2020. ADFG (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) opened the fishery up on July 1st, with the goal of shutting it down after we've caught about 80% of the 119,000 fish. Doing so allows the fishery to open back up briefly in mid-August, and the fleet can catch the remaining 20% of the quota. Splitting the quota into two openers is good for a few reasons: it helps the market from being over saturated, and gives folks who missed the kings on the first opener a second whack at them.

It's no easy task for our local fisheries managers, Grant and Rhea, to decide how many days to keep the first opener open. Many fisherman call in to the office and report their numbers, but many many more don't. So, Grant has to extrapolate from the few numbers he does receive how well (or poor) the fleet is doing, and when he should shut it down. Close too early, and fisherman will be angry that they were forced to quit before they reached their 80% target. Close too late, and fishermen will be angry that they don't get a second whack at the kings in August. It's a delicate art, and not a job we envy. We haven't received a full report yet on what the fleet caught in the first six days of July, but word around the dock is that we only caught about 60% of the quota, rather than the target to 80%.

We are reasonably pleased with how our first king opener went! The weather was snotty for the first few days, but not unfishable. We fished the first three days off the coast of Chichagof Island, and the following three days at the Fairweather Grounds, about 50 mies offshore. We only head to the Fairweather Grounds if the weather forecast looks good, since it's a pretty isolated place to be if weather gets dicey. We were really happy with the size of the kings on this opener, too! I didn't have the time or energy to get the camera out, but we caught some real hogs. It's just SO fun pulling kings over the rail.

Now that the king opener's over, we've been targeting cohos for the remainder of July. Coho fishing in July isn't usually a tough gig, if we're being honest. King salmon are notoriously picky eaters and fast movers -- whereas cohos are voracious feeders, and typically, can be found in some quantity all throughout Southeast Alaska. There might be a "hotter bite" here than there, a better scratch north than south, but for the most part: if you go to the ocean and drag a hook around, a coho will bite it. Well, in the true spirit of 2020... This year has been a little different.

The cohos have been few and far between this month. It's slightly improved in the last week, but it's still pretty lackluster. We're hoping the fish are just a little late; Southeast Alaska had a snowy winter, a really chilly spring, a stormy, wet July. Perhaps in all the weirdness that has been 2020, our cohos are just behind schedule. As I'm writing this, we've been forced to port after 15 days at sea; not because our fish hold is full, but because we needed to fuel up, and the fan motor on our freezer needed some attending to. After three days in town, we're all patched up, fueled up, groceried up, and are heading out to try again. Hoping the next few weeks bring is a couple more cohos and kinder seas.

That's all the news we have for now! Thanks for being here, we'll update you all again in August. Take care,


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