What happened to all the big kings?

O. mykiss
O. mykiss
I recently found a bunch of old STS magazines I had in a box from 2003-2004. Those were some amazing years of salmon and steelhead fishing I’ll never forget.
While going through the magazines, I noticed in the Hog Pen, there was at least one if not multiple 40-60 lb chinook from Oregon. Many of those photos were of Wilson and Trask river fish. There was even one picture of a 60lb fish from the Alsea.

It made me wonder, what happened to all of the big kings from Oregon? What has changed in 18 years? I have my theories, but I want to hear from others and see what everyone thinks is driving the size of our fish to plummet in less that 20 years.
 
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O. mykiss
O. mykiss
So I’ll start with my theory, with the age of computers, I think we became very good at tracking migration routes. We put tags in the fish and can track them through the rivers and then on their migration routes at sea. Alaskan commercial fisherman account for the vast majority of PIT tags turned in. They have become very good at targeting Oregon, Washington, and BC salmon stocks. A 50+ lb king spends 5-7 years at sea. With the netting pressure from thousands of commercial fisherman, I don’t think that our salmon have a chance of surviving 5-7 years. That’s why most of our salmon return these days at age 2 or 3.
 
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C
Cohobolo
O. mykiss is spot on. It's a math exercise. Each time a king migrates around the gulf of Alaska, it faces the probability of getting trapped by trawlers with highly sophisticated equipment. How many 6-salt kings can avoid the nets to return to our waters?
 
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O. mykiss
O. mykiss
In Oregon, fish from about the Umpqua south migrate to sea and feed south off of Oregon and California where gill netting is not legal. The southern Oregon and Northern California rivers still get 40-60 lbs kings. The central Oregon rivers north migrate to the gulf of Alaska, where they stand close to zero percent chance of survival. The fish average 20 lbs these days…
 
Shaun Solomon
Shaun Solomon
Does nobody think it would be a good thing to shut down the fishery for some period?
 
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jamisonace
jamisonace
Shaun Solomon said:
Does nobody think it would be a good thing to shut down the fishery for some period?
I actually do. I've thought they should rotate fisheries and sell tags on a lottery like hunting. I could go a year without salmon fishing every now and then if it would help the runs.

However, that does nothing for fish once they are out of the area. Alaskan commercial fishermen take up to 75% of returning salmon before they enter the river from what I've heard. We need to limit the commercial guys first. Sport fishermen do some damage but nothing like commercial.
 
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Shaun Solomon
Shaun Solomon
Well, glad I’m not the only one with such crazy notions.

You would think the weight of past mistakes would weigh more heavily on people than it appears to. Ah well. Eventually the final last buffaloes will all have been killed and we can finally call it a day.
 
O. mykiss
O. mykiss
I would gladly not salmon and steelhead fish for 10 years if I thought it would make a difference. I fully believe the genetics are still there for 60 lb kings. They just don’t have a chance to get big enough. It’s no different than shooting all of the bucks as spikes and forked horns then complaining that there are no big bucks left anymore.
One article that I’ve read, states:

“In 2013, Columbia River fish accounted for 53 percent of all chinook salmon caught in Southeast Alaska. Taking in coastal, wild, and Washington-hatched stocks, too, Oregon and Washington chinooks accounted for two-thirds of the southeast Alaska catch.”

That’s a problem, 67% of Alaskan-caught salmon are from Oregon and Washington. If the greed is not curtailed, we will never see our runs return or ever see big kings again.
 
DOKF
DOKF
Shaun Solomon said:
Does nobody think it would be a good thing to shut down the fishery for some period?
I personally have stopped salmon and steelhead fishing, and instead simply enjoy chasing hatchery salmonids in the usual stocked lakes.

When I do venture to a pristine wild stream it strictly catch and release; often "auto-release" with broken hook fly. I enjoy the thrill of fish rising to my presentation, especially the typically small stream fish.

I am also not one for combat fishing ...
 
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Shaun Solomon
Shaun Solomon
I’m not one for crowds. I’m short tempered and I don’t deal well with rudeness or ignorance. I still fly fish for trout now and then, but I haven’t tried for steelhead beyond my handful of unpleasant experiences on community holes. I might take a salmon if I caught one in the salt, but once they hit sweetwater I say god bless them and best of luck.

It warms my heart to know that there are caring people out there. It’s human nature to remember unpleasantness more readily than positive experiences, and I’m working on that too.
 
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jamisonace
jamisonace
Shaun Solomon said:
I’m not one for crowds. I’m short tempered and I don’t deal well with rudeness or ignorance. I still fly fish for trout now and then, but I haven’t tried for steelhead beyond my handful of unpleasant experiences on community holes. I might take a salmon if I caught one in the salt, but once they hit rivers I say god bless them and best of luck.

It warms my heart to know that there are caring people out there. It’s human nature to remember unpleasantness more readily than positive experiences, and I’m working on that too.
There is a tiny part of me that feels bad taking a fish that is so close to fulfilling its lifelong objective. But then I think, at least he didn't get eaten alive by a seal. Except for the one that broke me off and was immediately eaten by a seal. I still feel bad for that.
 
DOKF
DOKF
My first Deschutes redside had big doeful eyes. I had to release it. I have never kept one since.

I've caught many large tyees (chinook over 30 lbs), and even a few on the fly. Always released them in hopes that they would contribute to the gene pool. Nowadays, I would much rather just watch the splendor of a run than torment the beautiful creatures that they are. Ocean caught salmonids are always tastier anyways! Plus, for health and taste reasons, I prefer my eating choices to be in the 1 ~ 5 pound range from any source.

Don't get wrong, fresh fish is tasty, and definitely on the menu.

But then again, so is chicken. Evil nasty creatures that deserve to be BBQ'd. I grew up on a farm; but that is another story ...
 
Shaun Solomon
Shaun Solomon
I love you guys.
 
troutdude
troutdude
DOKF said:
But then again, so is chicken. Evil nasty creatures that deserve to be BBQ'd. I grew up on a farm; but that is another story ...
ROTFLMBO!
 
jamisonace
jamisonace
DOKF said:
Ocean caught salmonids are always tastier anyways!
I have to disagree. You could say they are "usually tastier". Late fall chinook can mature in the salt and can be fully sexually mature before they enter the river. A Spring chinook and many Fall chinook enter the rivers before any physiological change has occurred. Either of these conditions can happen at any time of the Fall run. If I catch 10 fish in a coastal stream in November, 5 will cut ocean perfect and have sea lice on them and 5 will show signs of deterioration. If I catch 10 fish on the Umpqua in September, 1 of 5 will be ocean perfect. There are so many variables there is no way you can say "always" or "never" to how a fish is going to cut.
 
troutdude
troutdude
In the 60's I saw a handful of 70 pounders, on the Alsea. Only 60 pounders in the early to mid 70's. Now a 30 pounder is a beast on that stream. A sad state of affairs.
 
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Shaun Solomon
Shaun Solomon
It’s bass. Bass are doing it.

Sorry, crawling back under my rock now.
 
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F
Fred
Maybe their food is being overfished as well.
 
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J
John Jones
OK, so there are two issues going on with the king salmon, and I can assure you that one of them isn't the commercial guys in Alaska. King quotas have been cut to pretty much bare bones in Alaska commercial fishing; restrictions have been in place for years. Here's an interesting read:

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/we-can't-survive-more-cuts-to-alaska-king-salmon-quota/
The real culprits:

1. Chinese trawlers are scraping the bottoms of the ocean in international waters. What they're doing is illegal according to international maritime law, but detection and enforcement are challenging enough and demand is great enough so that they take their chances. You can read more about that here — this is from three years ago, but the situation remains the same:

https://mustreadalaska.com/china-fish-pirates-have-their-way-with-alaska-salmon/
“Alaska-based US Coast Guard raids a Chinese fishing vessel for poaching 80 tons our salmon. And yet, Bill Walker says nothing. Why? Bill Walker wants China to own Alaska’s gas line. They’ve already bought his silence,” Dunleavy for Alaska posted on Facebook.

2. Rising levels of acidity in ocean environments are causing all five species of Pacific Salmon to decrease in size.
 
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G
gfisher2003
Wildfish said:
The real culprits:

1. Chinese trawlers are scraping the bottoms of the ocean in international waters. What they're doing is illegal according to international maritime law, but detection and enforcement are challenging enough and demand is great enough so that they take their chances. You can read more about that here — this is from three years ago, but the situation remains the same:

https://mustreadalaska.com/china-fish-pirates-have-their-way-with-alaska-salmon/
It doesn't seem like there is much reason to believe foreign fisherman are taking Chinook salmon or salmon in general in quantities large enough to affect stocks.

In the article you linked, the ship was carrying chum salmon, and I can't find any other evidence of this being anything but one of the one-off cases that happens every few years.

Changes to ocean environments seem to be a much more likely explanation. placing the blame on China is undeserved.
 

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