Now it’s mid-September, commercial fisheries are closed or winding down, and most of this year’s salmon have entered the Skeena, past the Tyee, and are settling into their home rivers. So, how did the numbers add up?
Unsustainable interception fisheries in Southeast Alaska harvested over 18 million salmon this year, and we estimate that over 3 million of those were returning to British Columbia streams. Precise numbers and impacts are difficult to determine as Alaskan fisheries don’t follow basic best practices for monitoring and reporting their catch, particularly for non-target species like steelhead. Seine and gill net fisheries in Alaska continue to use unsustainable gear and methods, resulting in unacceptably high mortalities of released fish. In fact, Southeast Alaska likely kills between 10-30% of Skeena steelhead returning each year. In 2021, the lowest steelhead return on record, that number may have been as high as 50%.
This year, an estimated 9,700 steelhead have returned to the Skeena, based on the Tyee index, ranking as the third lowest year of abundance in the past 66 years. This also means that anywhere from 1,000-4,000 Skeena-bound steelhead may have been intercepted and killed by Southeast Alaskan fishers. Until Alaska enforces reporting of these numbers and independent monitoring, we won’t know for sure.
We are asking the Marine Stewardship Council and Ocean Wise to revoke their certificates of sustainability for Southeast Alaskan salmon fisheries, and we are asking for your help.
Alaskan fisheries are the largest source of mortality for Skeena steelhead, but impacts from our own commercial, recreational, and Indigenous fisheries require consideration as well. In a year with additional environmental challenges from low water levels and high stream temperatures, every action counts.