Minnesota sends thousands of anglers to Alaska each summer, many intent on catching king salmon, also called chinook salmon. These are the big salmon, in some cases 30 pounds and more, that historically have been the real money fish for the Alaska sportfishing economy, particularly its fishing camps and other outfitters.
But Alaska's king salmon have been under considerable pressure in recent years from commercial pollock trawlers, who catch kings incidentally. As a result, it's believed, the king run in the Yukon and other western Alaskan rivers has diminished significantly.
Now the federal board that regulates offshore fishing around Alaska has moved to protect king salmon in the Gulf of Alaska, setting a hard cap on June 12 for a king salmon bycatch in those waters of 25,000 fish, effective in 2012. This follows a 60,000-fish cap of Bering Sea bycatch kings in 2009.
Last year in the Gulf of Alaska, a record bycatch of 51,000 kings was netted. As they do in the Bering Sea, kings in the Gulf of Alaska mingle with pollock and other fish before returning to their birth rivers to spawn, usually after spending about five years in the ocean.
Federal fisheries managers are concerned for many reasons, not least because some kings caught in nets off Alaska could be endangered or threatened strains native to states in the Pacific Northwest.
Big boats of the kind that fish the Bering Sea sometimes process their catches on-board. Smaller boats that patrol the Gulf of Alaska often return to shore with their catches. Some boats hail not from Alaska, but the Pacific Northwest.
The agreement that produced the 25,000-fish cap also requires netted salmon to be retained for distribution to food shelves, and for research.
Meanwhile, some fishing camps where chinooks have been king are focusing on other salmon, such as sockeyes.
As one Alaskan said, alluding to the political clout that commercial fishing interests have long wielded in Alaska, "If it were the Russians or the Canadians doing this to our salmon, we'd stop it."
Dennis Anderson • email@example.com