Salmon catch tops 98M as silvers, pinks return


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A king salmon that has returned to Ship Creek to spawn attempts to leap over a waterfall near the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery July 17 in Anchorage. A combination of muddy water and low returns closed the Ship Creek king fishery early this year, and chinook returns around Cook Inlet continue to be poor with the Kenai River king salmon sport and East Side setnet fisheries the latest to be shut down before the official end of the season.

AP Photo/Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News

The statewide salmon harvest estimate through July 30 was 98 million fish, including 1.2 million cohos, 28 million sockeyes and 55 million pinks.

As sockeye runs wind down, fishermen are turning to silvers and pinks.

Sport fishermen in Southcentral are also targeting cohos, but the opening of those fisheries has brought restrictions.

For the Kenai River, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced July 30 that bait and multiple hooks were prohibited on the lower Kenai.

That’s to conserve Kenai king salmon, which have had a poor return this year.

Through July 29, 11,746 late-run kings were counted on the Kenai, behind the 15,625 counted through the same day in 2012. The lower end of the escapement goal is 15,000 kings and ADFG has closed sport and East Side setnet fisheries based on a projection the goal will not be met.

The July 29 count was 803 kings, the second largest single-day return this year.

The sockeye run has slowed down on the Kenai, with 28,766 returning on July 29, for a total 1.22 million through that date, which is slightly behind the 1.26 million counted through that date in 2012.

On the Kuskokwim River, the commercial coho catch was about 13,000 so far, and for the whole Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, cohos make up about 23,000 of the 944,000 fish estimated to have been commercially landed through July 30.

King fishing in the region has been slow, with subsistence fisheries shut down on some parts of the Yukon, and research projects unable to take kings for their work.

Chum are by far the largest catch in that area, including 538,000 on the Yukon, but cohos are catching up to sockeyes, which make up the next largest chunk of the harvest at an estimated catch of 49,000 fish.

The Kotzebue commercial salmon fishery landed 17,283 chums July 28 during a six-hour opening. That fishery has taken about 107,000 chums total since its July 10 opening.

Western Alaska fisheries are also continuing. The commercial salmon fishery in Chignik continues to have openings, with an estimated 2.6 million fish caught there this year, including 2.2 million sockeyes.

Kodiak’s commercial salmon fishery has also continued, with extensions to fishing time in some areas.

At Kodiak, an estimated 7.2 million fish were caught through July 30, including 4.7 million pinks and 31,000 kings, but some commercial and subsistence fisheries in the area have closed to retaining kings to meet area escapements.

Commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet have caught about 163,000 cohos, most in the Central District where 2.6 million sockeyes have been landed, too.

Farther north, cohos are returning to Matanuska-Susitna area streams.

The coho count on the Little Susitna was 2,387 fish through July 30, well ahead of the 117 fish counted by the same date in 2012.

On the Deshka, the run is behind 2012 numbers. Through July 30, 140 cohos were counted, compared to 691 in 2012. ADFG also noted that the water temperature has been high — July 30, it was 20 degrees Celsius.

King returns on the Deshka have also slowed down, but the total run still outpaces 2012 at 18,296 fish estimated through July 30, compared to 13,905 last year.

On Fish Creek, the sockeye run has continued, with a cumulative count of 14,594 through July 30, more than the 14,201 counted in 2012. The creek saw its largest single-day return of the year July 25, when 3,777 sockeyes were counted.

In Southeast Alaska, an estimated 26.5 million salmon have been caught this year, with pinks caught by seiners continuing to make up the single largest portion of the catch.

King runs have been stronger than elsewhere in the state, and on the Situk River, 883 kings were counted through July 29, up from 289 by the same day in 2012.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

Judge hears arguments in Cook Inlet salmon suit

Closing arguments in the lawsuit regarding salmon management in Cook Inlet were scheduled for noon July 31, after the Journal went to press.

The Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund filed suit in state court, asking a judge to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to follow its fishery management plans.

During a July 30 evidentiary hearing, lawyers for the fishermen, or CIFF, argued that the state has not managed salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet according to the Board of Fisheries approved plans, and setnet fishermen are suffering for it.

ADFG, however, pointed to a clause that it can deviate from the plans if doing so is necessary to meet escapement goals, and called on witnesses from within the department to detail management decisions.

ADFG is tasked with meeting several escapement goals, and managers talked about the challenges of doing so, as well as the efforts to ensure the sockeye run didn’t exceed its goal, while still having the kings reach theirs.

In addition to the current ADFG managers that testified, CIFF called on a setnet fisherman — Doug Blossom — and a former ADFG manager — Tony Fox — to weigh in on how the fisheries have been run this summer.

When the lawsuit was filed in mid-July, CIFF was seeking an extra 51 hours of fishing time each week beyond the regularly scheduled openings. But by the time the case was heard July 30, the setnet fishery had been shut down and the organization said it wanted ADFG to follow management plans, and treat all sectors equitably.

Judge Andrew Guidi indicated that he would make a decision in relatively short order, likely by Aug. 1.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointment to the Board of Fisheries, to replace former member Vince Webster, was also due July 31 but had not yet been made as of press time.

— Molly Dischner

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