For the third year in a row, enough Cook Inlet sockeye salmon have made it up the Kasilof river that area management biologists have issued emergency orders opening a section of the commercial setnet fishery earlier than its regulatory start date.
By midnight Saturday, more than 56,500 sockeye had been counted past the river’s sonar. By regulation, the Kasilof section of the east side setnet fishery can open up to five days early if the sockeye salmon run is strong enough to put more than 50,000 fish in the river. If it doesn’t open early, the section opens for its first regular period on June 25.
Commercial fisheries area management biologists have scheduled an 12-hour period from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday in the setnet fishery.
Kasilof section setnetters make up about 250-300 of the approximately 450 setnet permits on the east side of Cook Inlet.
The drift gillnet fishery will also have its regular 12-hour opening on Monday and managers have expanded that period to run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. However, the drift fleet will be restricted to the Kasilof section of its fishery during the last three hours of that period.
During the opening, commercial fishermen are likely to catch king salmon bound for both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. This has been a point of contention between commercial, sport and personal use fishermen as the Kenai River early run king salmon fishery has been closed — either early, or entirely — in recent years, due to low returns of the fish. The Kasilof river king salmon fishery has been restricted for similar reasons.
However, Fish and Game genetics studies of the king salmon caught in the East Side Setnet fishery during late June and early July indicate that the majority of the king salmon harvested in that fishery are headed to spawn in the main stem of the Kenai River, according to a stock analysis report from 2010-2013. Early run king salmon on the Kenai river generally spawn in the river’s tributaries, according to Fish and Game data.
“We’re at the very tail end of the run for the early run in the marine environment,” said Commercial Area Management Biologist Pat Shields. “We’re transitioning into the late run.”
Shields said managers are cognizant of the closure in the Kenai river sport fishery, when considering how to fish the commercial set and drift gillnet fisheries.
“We could have fished (Sunday),” he said. “We have the escapement right now to fish (Sunday). We’re aware of king salmon concerns, so we’re delaying that by a day. If we didn’t have any concerns for king salmon … we probably would fish all of the hours that we could.”
By regulation, the commercial setnets could currently fish up to 48 hours of time a week in addition to the two regular 12-hour periods.
Still, Shields expects that the decision to open a commercial fishing period will likely be a point of contention for some.
“For (Fish and Game) department staff and members of the public, you’re going to have people on both sides of the coin who think we should or should not fish,” Shields said.
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