Salmon catch at 41M, Bristol Bay unlikely to meet forecast


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Dipnetters work a bank near the mouth of the Kenai River alongside a commerical fishing boat looking to net sockeye salmon in this file photo. The annual personal use fishery on the Kenai opened July 10, with no king salmon allowed to be retained because of a projected poor run.

Photo/Al Grillo/AP

Statewide, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that about 41.3 million salmon have been caught by commercial fishermen this year.

Prince William Sound has the largest share of that, with an estimated catch of about 14 million fish, including 8.9 million pinks, 3 million chums and nearly 2 million sockeye.

Between 2 million and 2.5 million pinks were also estimated to be caught as part of a cost recovery fishery in that area.

Nearly all of the sockeye catch has come from the Copper River.

About 12,362 salmon were counted on the Upper Copper River on July 9, for a total of just more than 1 million fish, ahead of both the expected daily and cumulative counts.

Regular fisheries openings continue in that region.

Bristol Bay leads the state for its sockeye catch, despite a mid-season closure caused by a grounded vessel. There, fishermen have netted about 13.4 million sockeyes, nearly all of the 13.9 million salmon caught in the region. Bristol Bay has also seen an estimated chum catch of 532,000 fish and a king catch of 16,000 fish. The Nushagak District leads the chum and king catches, while the most sockeye were taken in the Egegik District.

Despite the area’s relative fishery strength, according to a July 6 report all districts are thought to have hit their peaks, and are expected to fall short of the pre-season expectations.

The total run so far this year is estimated at about 19.6 million fish, with an escapement so far this year about 5.7 million salmon.

Kodiak and Chignik catches are closing in on 2 million salmon each.

The Chignik catch has been nearly all sockeyes — 1.83 million out of about 1.99 million — with the remainder largely chums and pinks, through July 9.

The sockeye run there is continuing, with about 2,421 passing the Chignik River weir on July 8, for a total of 396,151 sockeyes at the weir total through that date, well ahead of the 2012 run but behind the 2011 and 2010 counts.

In Kodiak, the largest portion of the catch was 1.37 million sockeyes, followed by chums and pinks, and a small king harvest, too.

The sockeye run has slowed down on the Karluk, but is still strong on the Ayakulik River, with 533 and 3,265 fish respectively at each of those weirs July 8. Both of those rivers are still ahead of the 2012 counts for the same time.

The run on Dog Salmon Creek has picked up, with about 10,259 counted July 8, bringing that weir’s cumulative count to 94,667, about 20,000 more than in early July, but still behind the total for the same date in 2012.

The Alaska Peninsula has seen a harvest of nearly 3 million salmon, including more than 2.1 million sockeyes.

In Cook Inlet, fishermen have landed about 734,000 fish. Most — 667,000 — have been sockeyes, with smaller numbers of chums and kings, at 30,000 and 20,000 respectively.

The central district accounted for the largest portion of the sockeye and chum catches, while the kings were caught primarily in Kamishak Bay.

Through July 8, 183,790 sockeyes had returned to the Kasilof River, and another 49,879 had returned to the Kenai. The Russian River had a cumulative count of 34,091 sockeyes through July 9, about 10,000 more than returned by the same date in 2012.

Personal use fishing also opened on the Kenai on July 10.

King counts on the Deshka remain strong, hitting a cumulative total of 17,910 fish on July 9, more than the 13,237 seen by the same date in 2012, and similar to the river’s 2011 number.

On the Little Susitna, the pace of king returns has slowed down, but the total keeps climbing, hitting 1,836 fish on July 9.

Farther south, other Cook Inlet waterways are also seeing kings return, although fishing has been somewhat restricted.

The Anchor River king count hit 3,725 on July 8, and the Kenai late-run hit 1,365 as of July 8. The Anchor number is similar to same date in 2011 and 2012. The Kenai number is 200 fish greater than 2012 on the same day, but about 3,000 less than 2011 and 1,000 less than 2010.

Farther north, the Arctic, Yukon, Kuskokwim area rivers still face restrictions.

Commercial catches in the region are much lower, at a total about 390,000 salmon caught so far this season. That’s in part due to a shorter season than other regions.

The Norton Sound fishery opened June 25, with a catch so far of about 35,000 fish, nearly all, or 34,000, of which were chums.

In Kuskokwim Bay, which opened June 29, about 45,000 salmon were caught, split between sockeyes and chums.

The Yukon opened June 18 and July for the lower and upper portions, respectively.

That river has been closed to king fishing to allow the first pulse to escape to Canada, but the chum fishery has continued, with a catch so far of 310,000 fish, mostly on the lower river.

The Kotzebue fishery was set to open July 10. A good chum run is expected there, with the commercial harvest forecast at 225,000 to 250,000 fish.

King runs have been poor so far on the Unalakleet River, and the drainage shut down to subsistence setnet fishing July 6. Beach seines are still allowed to target other species of salmon in that area.

Yukon king numbers are also below historical averages at the Pilot Station sonar, but the summer chum run is ahead of the historical count.

On the Goodnews River, in the Kuskokwim area, the king run is ahead of 2011 numbers at 240 fish through July 8, but well behind the good years in the early 2000s, when the river often saw more than a few thousand kings by this time of year.

In Southeast Alaska, the commercial salmon catch has totaled about 5.4 million fish, mostly chums and pinks. The largest portion of the chum catch came from hatchery seiners, who have caught 1.7 million fish since May 1.

Several of the gillnet and seine fisheries opened in mid-June, and the largest catch out of those came from northern seiners who have caught nearly a million pinks and about 177,000 chums. Other sockeye runs are doing well.

At the Chilkat Lake sonar, the cumulative sockeye count is between the lower and upper ranges of the escapement goal. On the Situk River, the lower weir hs counted more than 70,000 fish, well above the escapement range and aso above the 10-year average for this point in the season.

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

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