In this July 2016 photo, a commercial drift gillnet boat makes its way out of the Kenai River early in the morning in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

In this July 2016 photo, a commercial drift gillnet boat makes its way out of the Kenai River early in the morning in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Kenai sockeye run late, biologists say

Cook Inlet east side set gillnet fishermen and drift gillnet fishermen will get their first chance to fish in more than a week on Saturday.

An emergency order issued Friday opens commercial fishing from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. in the Kasilof, Kenai and East Forelands sections of the Upper Subdistrict for setnetters. Drift gillnetters will be able to fish in the expanded Kenai and Kasilof sections and in the Anchor Point Section during the same time period.

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries have determined that the Kenai River’s sockeye run is late this year, according to an inseason run update also released Friday. With more information, biologists have projected that the Kenai River’s run will exceed 2.3 million sockeye, according to the update.

“Inseason information indicates sockeye salmon run timing is two or more days late,” the emergency order states. “Based on this, final passage projections of sockeye salmon in the Kenai River are expected to exceed 1.0 million fish.”

The updated assessment changes some of the management parameters for commercial fisheries under the Kenai River sockeye salmon management plan. The plan sets out three tiers of run sizes that determine management actions. A projection of more than 2.3 million sockeye pushes the management into the middle tier from the lower tier of less than 2.3 million sockeye. In the middle tier, managers can open the east side setnet fishery for up to 51 additional hours per week in addition to the regular 12-hour periods on Monday and Thursday.

Drift gillnet fishermen could also get a little more area to fish. In the middle tier of the management plan, they can fish in the expanded Kasilof and Kenai sections and the Anchor Point section or in a large area in the center of Cook Inlet between the south tip of Kalgin Island and the Anchor Point Light. After action taken by the Board of Fisheries in March, drift gillnet fishermen could also get one 12-hour inlet-wide period, but only before July 31 and if the run is projected to exceed 2.3 million fish.

Fish and Game managers closed the commercial fishery for its regular period last Monday because of concerns about the Kenai River sockeye escapement, and kept it closed for the regular period Thursday. Since then, escapement has soared, topping 70,000 on Wednesday and reaching about 66,000 on Thursday. Kasilof River sockeye salmon escapement has also increased, topping 15,000 fish on Wednesday for a total of 238,293 salmon since June 15.

The second tier of the management plan also places the Kenai’s inriver goal at 1 million – 1.3 million sockeye, a bump up from the 900,000–1.1 million in the lower tier. On average, the Kenai run is 63 percent done by July 27, according to the emergency order. The Kasilof River has already reached its biological escapement goal of 160,000–340,000 sockeye salmon, according to the emergency order.

“Therefore, given the current rate of sockeye salmon passage in both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and that inseason information indicates this year’s sockeye salmon run to be late in run timing, opening the commercial fisheries in these areas on Saturday, July 29, 2017 is warranted,” the emergency order states.

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

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