Managers reining back Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishing

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show that 2017’s Kenai River inriver goal is 900,000–1.1 million sockeye salmon.

Commercial fishing managers in Upper Cook Inlet have pulled back fishermen for the next few days in an attempt to increase sockeye salmon escapement to the Kenai River.

Low sockeye salmon passage so far in the Kenai River has led to slow sportfishing in the river and patchy success in the personal-use dipnet fishery at the river’s mouth. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists were already projecting a smaller than usual sockeye run to the Kenai this year, but now close to three weeks into the run, only 179,976 fish have passed Fish and Game’s sonar as of Monday. Managers aim for an inriver goal of between 900,000 and 1.1 million sockeye, but if passage stays at its current rate — which has been less than 20,000 fish per day, with the exception of Monday, when passage topped 30,000 in a single day — they may not make the goal, said Pat Shields, commercial area management biologist in Soldotna.

So, in response, commercial fishermen didn’t go out Tuesday and won’t go out Wednesday, Shields said.

“We don’t anticipate that we’ll be commercial fishing Tuesday or Wednesday … to allow more sockeye salmon to enter the Kenai River to increase the passage rate,” he said.

The next decision will come Wednesday afternoon, when managers will meet to determine what to do Thursday and the following several days, he said.

Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet have harvested their millionth salmon this season. Drift gillnetters and set gillnetters had their biggest day of the season last Thursday, with the drift fleet bringing in 232,572 salmon, 183,209 of them sockeye. Between the drift fleet and the various east side setnetters, commercial fishermen brought in 278,658 salmon that day, the vast majority of them sockeye.

Altogether, as of July 15, Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen have landed 1.15 million salmon, 971,258 of them sockeye, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game data.

That’s about two-thirds of the total forecasted harvest for 2017. Fish and Game biologists projected a lower than usual run of sockeye for Upper Cook Inlet with a commercial harvest of about 1.7 million salmon in the annual forecast, released last November.

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

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