Northern District setnet fishing time trimmed by 6 hours

The directed king salmon fishery in the Northern District of Upper Cook Inlet will be restricted to six hours on its first day of the 2016 season.

The setnet fishery in the Northern District will only be able to fish for six hours instead of the regularly scheduled 12 on May 30, according to an emergency order issued by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game on Friday. Fishing will be open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on that day.

The rest of the regularly scheduled fishing periods — June 6, 13 and 20 — will remain open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. unless changed by emergency order.

Division of Commercial Fisheries Area Management Biologist Pat Shields said the restriction was to allow more king salmon to escape to the Upper Cook Inlet stream systems. The restriction is in conjunction with sportfish regulations to allow more kings to escape into the river systems, he said.

“It’s based on the actions taken in both the sport and commercial fishery, because the sport fishery has also taken some reductions,” Shields said.

The Northern District commercial directed king salmon fishery is a smaller and limited one — setnetters are only allowed one net as compared to the regular three, and it is only open for four Mondays in a row, beginning May 30, Shields said. The fishery is a relatively low-level one to allow some king salmon fishing early in the year, he said.

The order also closes commercial fishing between the wood chip dock on the West Side of Cook Inlet and the Susitna River during the 2016 directed king salmon fishery, which lasts from May 25 until June 24. The closure of the commercial fishery is linked to the Chuitna River king salmon stock, which is identified as a stock of concern.

“We estimate that that (area closure) reduces the harvest of king salmon in the commercial fishery by about 50 percent,” Shields said.

According to the Northern District King Salmon Management Plan, if the sportfishery on the Chuitna is closed, the commercial fishery must be closed between the wood chip dock and the Susitna River as well, according to the emergency order. The Chuitna River is closed to king salmon fishing by regulation in the 2016 season.

The king salmon returns to the Chuitna River have been improving in recent years, according to the single-aerial censuses that Fish & Game conducts on the fish in the Chuitna, Shields said. The returns have made their goal there for the last three years, and it is possible that the restriction could be lifted in the future, though that would be up to the Division of Sport Fish, he said.

All waters of the Northern District, including the ones closed in the order, will be open for the regular fishing season from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays beginning June 27, according to the emergency order.

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

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