More sockeye enter Kenai, Thursday commercial opening still on table

More sockeye salmon passed the sonar into the Kenai River on Monday, but it’s still up in the air whether commercial fishermen will go out Thursday for their regular fishing period.

About 48,366 sockeye passed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar at river mile 19 on Monday, the biggest single daily passage of the run so far, bringing the cumulative count for the year to 382,784. That’s still only a little over half of the count by the same date in 2016, and managers and fishermen alike are still hoping the run is just late.

Managers from the Division of Commercial Fisheries and the Division of Sport Fish were planning to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss how to proceed with the fisheries given the current passage rates, said Pat Shields, the commercial fisheries area management biologist.

“I would say at this point that the chances of fishing commercially on Thursday are quite small,” he said. “It’s possible but not probable.”

Commercial fishermen in the Central District have been out of the water since last Thursday, and Northern District setnetters’ gear allowances have been reduced by emergency order. Central District fishermen didn’t get to fish their regular period Monday and managers are trying to decide whether to allow them to fish Thursday, given the low passage to the Kenai River, Shields said. The managers aim for an inriver sockeye salmon goal of 900,000 – 1.1 million fish past the sonar, and at this point, it doesn’t look like they’ll reach the lower end of the goal with the current rates of passage, he said.

As of noon Tuesday, about 20,000 fish had passed the sonar, which was more than by noon on Monday, so the managers were hopeful but watching carefully, Shields said.

“They’d have to be pretty large estimates to consider fishing on Thursday,” he said.

Currently, sportfishermen and personal-use dipnet fishermen are still fishing, with sportfishermen on the lower Kenai River operating under a bag limit of three per day with six in possession for fish larger than 16 inches, or 10 per day with 10 in possession for fish smaller than 16 inches.

Managers have the option of closing the sportfishery and dipnet fishery to increase passage, as they did in 2006, though that decision had not been made Tuesday.

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

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