Fishing map shows District 7 and District 8. Salmon stock concerns could result in closing down of certain districts. (Courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The Wrangell Chamber of Commerce may shorten this year’s Salmon Derby due to king salmon stock concerns. The Chamber wants the community’s input on what should be done. KSTK’s June Leffler has more.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts the lowest returns of king salmon it’s ever recorded. Although Stikine River chinook are not officially a “stock of concern,” numbers are low enough that the Board of Fish will likely impose deep restrictions on king fishing regionwide, before it wraps up its meeting in Sitka this week. Cyni Crary is the executive director of the Wrangell Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the derby every year. She expects that Fish and Game will close District 8 to King Salmon fishing. District 8 is at the mouth of the Stikine and Babbler Point, just west of town.

CRARY: “A lot of people in Wrangell really like to fish Babbler, when you look on the derby tickets. I would say about 80 percent of them are from Babbler. And that spot won’t be available.”

Crary expects that District 7 will remain open. That area is further south towards Prince of Wales. 

Wrangell’s salmon derby is the longest in the region, lasting one month. This is the first year the chamber is considering shortening derby.

CRARY: “A few ideas that have been brought up are shortening the derby to maybe 2 or 3 weekends and maybe to supplement, if we don’t sell enough tickets, we could do a Coho derby in late summer.”

The derby’s happened without a hitch for over 60 years. It’s a tradition that folks don’t want to give up.

Plus, it adds to the local economy, which is mission of the chamber.

CRARY: “I know our downtown businesses will be affected. If we don’t have some kind of a derby you know this is a big boost in their sales. You have to go and buy all the equipment and everything fishing related.”

Those sales come from locals and those visiting. Crary says the month-long derby makes Wrangell a great fishing destination for travelers. And ticket sales bring in thousands of dollars for derby prizes and the chamber.

CRARY: “But we also don’t want to be the community that is not being responsible with what’s happening with our fish.”

The Chamber’s derby planning committee has not yet decided what the derby will look like this year.

CRARY: “That’s why we want people to show up, we don’t want to make decisions that affect everybody without everybody’s input.”

Last August, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game closed down fishing for kings for both commercial trollers and sport fishermen – an unprecedented move. Winter trolling for kings has since reopened, but is likely to close early, to protect returns to the three rivers that meet “stock of concern” criteria for the department: The Chilkat near Haines, the King Salmon south of Juneau, and the Unuk north of Ketchikan.

The public meeting is this Wednesday at 5PM at the Stikine Inn.