Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion A "Fish or Cut Bait" flag flies in the wind on a boat sitting on blocks at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion A "Fish or Cut Bait" flag flies in the wind on a boat sitting on blocks at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

Drifters head into the season, setnets to remain dry

  • By By Rashah McChesney
  • Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:30pm
  • News

The Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock was bustling Thursday, though not with commercial drift gillnetters bringing in volumes of sockeye salmon from the season’s first opener; rather with captains and crews who spent the afternoon putting the finishing touches on their boats, readying for the upcoming fishing season.

Typically, the first opener of the commercial season is slow, said Fish and Game managers and fishermen on the dock, though the banner run of Kasilof River sockeye lured some into the water Thursday for the 12-hour Cook Inlet-wide opening. In 2013, 60 boats went out on the first commercial drift opener and caught about 3,500 fish, according to Fish and Game catch data.

Several dozen people spent the sunny afternoon working on their boats, running new crew through equipment and boat operations or, like Paul Usoltseff, doing minor repairs before putting into the water.

“I will be going into the water on Wednesday,” Uloltseff said. “I’ll fish Thursday’s opener.”

The commercial drift gillnetting fleet in the Cook Inlet is scheduled to fish regular 12-hour openers on Mondays and Thursdays through July 8, before regulations change their fishing period time and the areas where they are allowed to fish.

Roland Maw, drift gillnet fisher and executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, said he had skipped fishing the first opening day of the season and was instead getting ready to go fishing for halibut near Kodiak.

“It’s pretty slow,” he said. “I know two or three boats went out but they didn’t get many, less than 20.”

Despite a Wednesday evening storm, Thursday morning was relatively calm and that weather extended into the afternoon — though the blue sky was punctuated with several heavy, dark clouds.

Catches, primarily of the sockeye salmon targeted by the fleet, will pick up as the season progresses, said Aaron Dupuis, assistant area management biologist in the commercial division of Fish and Game.

This early in the season, drift gillnet fishers will primarily be catching sockeye, or red, salmon headed to the Kasilof River — a run that is performing well above average for this time of year, according to Fish and Game fish counts on the river.

By midnight Thursday 34,500 fish had passed the sonar on the Kasilof River and ten hours later 40,000 had passed through — more than twice as many fish as were counted last year at the same time.

Dupuis said the sockeye salmon run was the second largest since 1983, but the large numbers did not imply a run that was larger than usual; rather the run could be early and taper off sooner than last year’s did.

When compared to sockeye salmon runs in Kodiak and on the Copper River, Dupuis said the run could be both early and strong.

“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “We’re two percent through the run, so we’re all kind of guessing.”

Still, it is likely the river will hit the 50,000 mark by Friday if current trends continue, meaning area managers could open the set gillnet fishery in the Kasilof section of the East Side Setnet Fishery.

Both Dupuis and area management biologist Pat Shields said Fish and Game would not be opening the set gillnet fishery as fish in the early run of Kenai River king salmon, which swim through the same area as Kasilof-bound sockeye, are still vulnerable to harvest.

“We’re going to wait and evaluate king salmon data for a couple more days,” Shields said.

Typically, the set gillnet fleet has a better chance of harvesting Kasilof-bound sockeye salmon than the drift gillnet fleet.

“Kasilof sockeye are very beach oriented and they come up the beaches. They’re not available to the drifters very well,” Shields said.

Last year, the commercial fleet was under similar restrictions due to low king salmon runs. More than 489,000 sockeye salmon escaped into the Kasilof River — well above the upper end river’s sustainable escapement goal range of 160,000 to 390,000.

 

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion A commercial drift gillnet boat the "Fancy Nancy" sits anchored in the Kenai River at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Commercial drift fishers got their first opening Thursday, though just 40-50 several-hundred-strong fleet headed into the Cook Inlet to fish.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion A commercial drift gillnet boat the “Fancy Nancy” sits anchored in the Kenai River at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Commercial drift fishers got their first opening Thursday, though just 40-50 several-hundred-strong fleet headed into the Cook Inlet to fish.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Paul Usolteff, of Anchor Point, works on his boat Preliv, a Russian word meaning high tide, at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Paul Usolteff, of Anchor Point, works on his boat Preliv, a Russian word meaning high tide, at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Several feet of gillnet hung over sawhorses at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Commercial drifters had their first opening Thursday and will fish regular 12-hour Tuesday and Thursday openings Cook Inlet-wide through early July.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Several feet of gillnet hung over sawhorses at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Commercial drifters had their first opening Thursday and will fish regular 12-hour Tuesday and Thursday openings Cook Inlet-wide through early July.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Dan Smith, left, and his wife Jessica Smith, listen to their captain for the season, Gail White, as the three prepare White's boat "Sonny Boy" to be put into the water at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Dan Smith, left, and his wife Jessica Smith, listen to their captain for the season, Gail White, as the three prepare White’s boat “Sonny Boy” to be put into the water at the Snug Harbor Seafoods receiving dock Thursday June 19, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska.

More in News

Courtesy photo / Juneau Raptor Center
This golden eagle was rescued by the Juneau Raptor Center over the summer after being found weak and thin.
Rescue center, birdwatchers look back on 2021

Juneau Christmas bird count was way down this year.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (NICT via AP)
Tsunami advisory issued after eruption

An undersea volcano erupted Friday near the South Pacific island of Tonga, triggering concerns of damaging waves across Pacific coastlines

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Multiple public works projects underway in Soldotna

Soldotna City Council received an update on eight different projects

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Hospitalizations rise as state reports increase in COVID cases

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday

Terri Carter’s class celebrates the National Blue Ribbon award after their assembly at Soldotna Montessori Charter School on Friday, Jan 14, 2022. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
A ‘pathway to a brighter and fulfilling future’

Soldotna Montessori Charter School celebrates national achievement

Homer City Council member Rachel Lord discusses her concerns with funding the Alaska Small Business Development Center Homer Business Advisory position during the Jan. 10 council meeting. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Council says ‘yes to small businesses’

Homer City Council votes 4-2 in favor of partially funding the Homer Business Advisory position.

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
Sightseeing buses and tourists are seen at a pullout popular for taking in views of North America’s tallest peak, Denali, in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, on Aug. 26, 2016.
Bridge proposed along section of slumping Denali park road

Landslides in the area go back decades but usually required maintenance every two to three years

A sign directs voters at Soldotna City Hall on March 5, 2019. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Locals to join national voting rights march Saturday

The march in Soldotna is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna approves $32,000 federal grant for airport

The funds were made available through the American Rescue Plan Act for improvement projects at the Soldotna Municipal Airport

Most Read