East side setnets, drifters closed again Thursday

Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet’s central district will stay on the beaches again Thursday to allow more sockeye to enter the Kenai River.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a closure of the east side set gillnet and Central District drift gillnet fisheries for Thursday. It’s the second commercial fishing closure of the week due to low sockeye salmon passage into the Kenai River.

Though the counts improved Monday and Tuesday and the managers’ projections are increasing again, it’s still not enough to reach the lower end of the inriver goal yet, said Pat Shields, the area management biologist for commercial fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet. Wednesday’s counts through 5 p.m. looked similar to Tuesday’s, when about 60,000 fish passed the sonar.

“That still doesn’t have us projecting that we’ll be in the inriver goal range by season’s end,” he said. “However, the projections are increasing. Each day that we get 60,000 fish or more to the sonar, the projections are increasing.”

So far, about 443,000 sockeye salmon have passed the sonar at river mile 19. The managers shoot for an inriver goal range of 900,000–1.1 million fish in years when the run is projected to be fewer than 2.3 million fish. In a typical year, the run would be about 57 complete by July 25, according to an emergency order issued Wednesday.

The decisions for the commercial fishery are day-to-day, Shields said.

Commercial fishermen in other areas of Upper Cook Inlet will fish Thursday, though the setnetters in the Northern District will operate with gear restrictions to allow for additional Susitna River sockeye salmon passage, Shields said. The weirs gauging the passage of sockeye salmon into the river system are too far upstream from the fishery to say how the run is doing yet, but the Fish Creek weir, which is closer to the fishery, had counted enough salmon to warrant the opening of the Fish Creek personal-use dipnet fishery effective Wednesday until Monday, Shields said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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