Alaska Department of Fish and Game Study Tracks Fate of Caught and Released Kings

Aug 2, 2017

ADF&G can use the data it collects to allow for mortality from catch and release fishing in their management.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game started a study this year to determine the fate of kings that are caught and released in the Nushagak sport fishery. KDLG's Allison Mollenkamp reports....

Lee Borden is the assistant area management biologist for sport fish in Dillingham.

“With such a, you know, high profile sport fishery here on the Nushagak and with the amount of fish that are caught and released, it was kind of vital information for managers to know kind of the end fate of these fish.”

Fish and Game is replicating fishing methods used in sport camps on the Nushagak to catch, tag, and release king salmon. Their goal this year was to tag 170 salmon. They fell a little short, with their four man, six day a week team tagging 107 chinook over the course of the season. Once the fish have radio tags, they can be followed during aerial surveys.

The preliminary conclusion is that the mortality rate, or the number of fish that die within five days of being caught and released, is 6.7%. Borden says this number is within the expected range, but the data can still help inform management.

“This fishery is managed, essentially its managed from the index from portage creek sonar, so those numbers aren’t definitive total counts. That sonar was originally designed to count sockeye, so we use it as an index instead of a definitive counter, so the numbers that we are collecting will give managers in the area an ability to factor in the mortality from catch and release.”

Fish and Game will continue the study next year to gather more data. When the full data is gathered it will be made available to the public.

Overall, the Nushagak king run did not come in as strong as was hoped for this year. Between June 7th and 19th, the Portage Creek Sonar counted 56,351 kings.

Borden says there’s still uncertainty about those numbers.

“The run isn’t necessarily as, it wasn’t as small as the index may have indicated. You know we think that the low water level, we believe that was a confounding factor that may have messed with our sonar numbers as far as getting an accurate index.”

The state manages to get between 55,000 and 120,000 kings in the river. The commercial fleet hauled in about 32,000 kings in the Nushagak district this season.

Contact the author at allison@kdlg.org or (907) 842-5281.