The Alaska troll fishery has enforced a 28” minimum overall length on Chinook for many decades, but is that the best way to measure our fish? Since 2006 ADF&G port samplers have been measuring our coded wire tagged salmon from the fork of the tail rather than the tail tips. This is a more accurate measurement since it is much less sensitive to how the tail happens to be positioned. The fork of the tail stays the same distance from the snout regardless of whether the tail is flared or squeezed. If we were to use this standard it would reduce the number of times that an honest troller is cited by enforcement for a short fish; a fish that was 28” when it was measured alive, but went into rigor mortis with the tail flared out, and thus was short when it was delivered.
Adopting a fork-length minimum would be particularly beneficial during the spring fisheries due to physical changes in maturing Chinook. As kings near maturity their tails get squarer, making the fork length almost as long as the overall length. An immature king that measures 28” overall will be about 26-1/2” from the snout to the fork of the tail. But a mature king that is 26-1/2” to the fork will only be about 27” overall. Thus, if our minimum size limit in the spring fisheries was 26-1/2” from snout to fork, the protections for immature fish (mostly Treaty fish) would remain unchanged, but we would be able to keep some additional mature fish. These would mostly be 2-ocean hatchery jacks; fish that our 3% enhancement taxes have paid for. Why should we be required to release these fish that are likely to then get caught in a gillnet or purse seine? As jacks tend to be heavy for their length, they would still be heavier than the 28” immature feeders and thus of significant value to the industry. Many Chinook runs are seeing an increasing proportion of 2-oceans in their returns. Changing our minimum size to 26-1/2” fork length will allow us to retain more of these fish.
If you have any thoughts on this topic, please contact your ATA Board representative.