Fishing map shows District 7 and District 8. Salmon stock concerns resulted in closing down District 8. District 7 is still open for king salmon fishing. (Courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Wrangell has the longest salmon derby in Southeast Alaska, lasting a whole month.  While other communities have shortened or stopped their derbies, this is the first year Wrangell will limit openings to five weekends.

“No we could go 30 days straight right now. We’re doing this voluntarily,” says the derby’s chief organizer Shawn Curley. “Just our way of cutting back and showing we realize there’s a problem going on and maybe not being so greedy. That gives five days for the fish to do their thing and swim by and a two day weekend.”

The derby will last just 11 days, from May 12 to June 10.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts the lowest returns of king salmon it’s ever recorded. The Stikine River chinook are not among those listed as official “stocks of concern,” but the recent Board of Fisheries meeting produced an action plan to further conserve salmon across Southeast Alaska.

Wrangell and Petersburg’s Fish and Game Area Manager Patrick Fowler says the Stikine forecast meets only half it’s escapement goal.

“I expect it’s only a matter of time before we end up with a stock of concern,” he says.

One of those regulations is to close sport fishing for king salmon fishing in District 8, which is at the mouth of the Stikine.

So it’s a critical point for returning salmon. It also encompasses the most popular areas for sportfishing in Wrangell.

District 7, which encompasses the eastern passage, will remain open.

Wrangell Chamber of Commerce holds a public meeting on January 24, 2018, regarding the future of the Annual King Salmon Derby. The month-long derby will be shortened to five weekends. (June Leffler/ KSTK)

At a public meeting in Wrangell, sports fishermen gave their take on the updated Derby.

Dave Mork says if Fish and Game is closing area 8, why does Wrangell need to add insult to injury by shortening the salmon derby?

“So Fish and Game has a handle on this it sounds like to me. They’re going to close this area 8 down, and leave open seven. Why play with it they didn’t tell us we need to change it,” Mork says.

Derby Committee member Aaron Powell says that they’ve been getting flak from neighboring communities, saying the month-long derby is irresponsible.

“We’re at an all-time low of king salmon return. We’re the only place that has a month-long, straight derby,” says Powell. “Petersburg has one weekend, I think Ketchikan has two. We’re already getting heat from other communities saying you shouldn’t even have a derby.”

The derby committee knows limiting the event will hurt Wrangell’s economy. Less tickets would likely be sold. Maybe less folks from out of town would show up. And less time to fish could mean less business for local shops.

But Curley says it’s the responsible thing for Wrangell. And people will still be “itching to fish”.

UPDATED at 10:11 AM, Monday Jan. 28: KSTK reported that grand prizes would be based off a percentage of ticket sales this year. The committee says that is not the case, they are still working out the prize amounts.