Fishermen question dismal numbers at Ship Creek
Lately, the hot topic among fishermen on Ship Creek is how bad they’re fishing. None of them were surprised when Fish and Game announced an emergency closure for the fishery last week.
“People who are chasing kings this year, I don't think they're gonna do very well,” said Eric Pickens, who has been fishing the waters at Ship Creek for 51 years.
He caught his first king here but says this year is the worst return of king salmon he’s seen in his life.
Fishermen love Ship Creek because of its access to downtown, but the state says the closure is necessary.
Since June 28, just four king salmon have made their way back to the hatchery upstream. The state calls it a historically low return and it’s potentially devastating news since Fish and Game need more kings to return, so they can breed more for future runs.
At midnight on July 3, all sport fishing on Ship Creek will close until midnight on July 14. It’s a move that nearly everyone who uses Ship Creek supports-- even people who make their livelihood only when fishermen are catching them.
“Definitely closing it is going to help. Not only will there not be any pressure down here but what fish do come in are going to be able to get up to the hatchery upstream unharmed with no resistance and no anglers here trying to catch them. That's good because the state right now needs all the fish upstream it can get,” said Dustin Slinker, who owns The Bait Shack.
He rents locals and tourists alike rods and reels and sells bait and fishing licenses.
Even though Slinker will lose a lot of business with the closure, he understands that it’s best for the salmon. He stopped renting fishing gear to customers the moment the state announced the fishery would close last week, even though it was three days before they banned sport fishing.
Thinking long term, Slinker says the emergency order will only help him survive. Short term, however: Slinker will have no customers and no revenue.
“I’ll take a little time to catch up on some sleep and catch up on some paperwork and get ready to yell fish on,” he said.
Everyone agrees that the fish aren't there. The questions on Ship Creek now is why and who's to blame.
Pickens says there’s a problem and the state needs to solve it. He points fingers at everyone: sport fishermen, commercial fishermen and subsistence users. Pickens even believes mother nature and climate change play a part.
While he admits he’s no expert, Pickens says the state should have acted sooner.
“They should have closed it weeks ago. Yes it will benefit the fish and they need to shut it down so they can get stocking fish for future runs,” said Pickens.
Slinker takes a more conservative approach when it comes to what’s at play. He stresses again that the state is doing the right thing by shutting down the fishery.
“People are pointing fingers at who's right and who's wrong. What's happening to the fish where they at? However, I think in reality no one knows where the fish are,” said Slinker.
Slinker still has hope for the season. While king salmon may be the prize fish of Ship Creek, there’s also a run of silver salmon that draw a large amount of anglers to his shop.
Normally, the silvers hit Ship Creek the third or fourth week of July and Slinker says he’ll be open and ready to help anyone who wants to catch one.
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