Bay harvest winds down; Kuskokwim kings may meet goal


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Karl Kircher and Steven Bishop pitch setnet caught fish from a skiff near the mouth of the Kasilof River at 1 a.m. July 17 during an overnight commercial fishing period. A strong early run for Kasilof sockeye led to more fishing opportunity there while managers are still waiting for a large enough pulse of sockeyes to move toward the Kenai River that would allow the setnetters there to get in the water.

Photo/Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion

Statewide, commercial fishers harvested almost 10 million fish last week as the major sockeye harvest in Bristol Bay is winding down.

Through July 22, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated that 72.5 million fish had been harvested, including 38.8 million sockeye, 26.7 million pinks and 386,000 kings.

In Cook Inlet, the sockeye run strength and king salmon concerns have meant a smaller commercial harvest so far.

There, commercial fishers have harvested about 2.5 million fish, including 2.1 million sockeye, 268,000 pinks and 4,000 kings.

Most of the fish have been caught in the Central District of Cook Inlet — about 2.3 million fish have been caught there, including 1.9 million sockeye.

Kenai River sockeye numbers are still less than the recent past.

Through July 21, 497,160 sockeyes were counted on the Kenai, less than the 1 million seen by the same date in 2013 or the 695,588 in 2012. In 2006, however, just 147,440 were counted by the same date and eventually 2 million fish were counted in that run.

The Kasilof sockeye run came in strong initially, with record daily counts earlier this summer, but is now at about 348,593 fish through July 21, compared to 424,458 by the same date in 2013. The 2014 Kasilof run is ahead of the 2011 and 2012 runs at the same date, when run counts were 168,144 and 219,060, respectively.

For the first time, the available fishing hours for Cook Inlet setnetters are limited due to restrictions in the Kenai River king salmon sport fishery.

In February, the Board of Fisheries changed the Upper Cook Inlet salmon management plans to pair commercial and sport fishing restrictions, so when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, restricted king fishing to catch and release with barbless hooks as of July 19, it meant that East Side setnetters couldn’t fish more than 12 hours per week.

Since then, the king counts have improved slightly, with 6,843 fish counted on the Kenai through July 21, including 1,014 on July 20, the strongest day so far this summer.

But those numbers are not yet enough to liberalize the fishery, and the run is still behind even last year, when it came in late and low, with 7,954 fish counted by July 21, 2013.

In the meantime, the drift fleet has been utilized more heavily to catch sockeyes bound for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and ADFG managers have said they are waiting for a strong pulse of Kenai fish to best utilize the fishing time available to East Side setnetters.

Southeast

In Southeast Alaska, commercial fishers have harvested an estimated 6.5 million fish, including 346,000 kings, 2.7 million chums and 2.6 million pinks. That’s a significant harvest in the past week; through July 15, commercial fishers had taken about 3.9 million fish. The majority of the increase has come from pinks, although silver, sockeye and king catches have also increased.

The silver salmon catch so far is about 448,000, but ADFG said in an update that now that king salmon retention is closed for trollers, the focus will shift to silvers.

According to the blue sheet estimate, the summer troll king harvest has been about 201,000 fish. A second retention period is likely to occur later this summer.

Bristol Bay, Prince William Sound sockeye catches wind down

At Bristol Bay, the harvest also appears to be winding down, although catches are still stronger than expected.

A total of 28.9 million fish have been harvested from the Bay this summer according to ADFG’s estimates through July 22, including 28.5 million sockeyes.

That was a harvest of less than a million fish for the week of July 16 to 22, but still well beyond the preseason forecast.

ADFG had initially expected a total sockeye run of about 26.58 million fish, with a commercial harvest of about 16.86 million.

The Prince William Sound catch continues, with about 26.6 million fish harvested through July 22, including 22.3 million pinks. The sockeye catch is at about 3.1 million fish, and about 1.1 million chums have also been caught.

The sockeye catch from July 16 to 22 was small — about 100,000 fish or less — in the Sound, and that fishery is likely also winding down.

Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim

The commercial catch in the far north hit the 1 million-mark, with about 1.05 million fish caught through July 22, according to ADFG’s estimates.

That catch includes about 71,000 sockeyes, 204,000 pinks, 6,000 silvers, 2,000 kings and 771,000 chums.

The chum catch is driven by the lower Yukon River, where 461,000 chums have been harvested, but the Upper Yukon catch is also increasing — about 92,000 chums were harvested there through July 22.

Nearly all of the silver catch has come from the Kuskokwim River.

That fishery opened July 14, and fishers have harvested about 5,000 silvers, 2,000 sockeyes and 18,000 chums. Kuskokwim Bay has seen a larger sockeye catch — about 68,000. However, ADFG announced July 22 that it would wait to gauge the silver run strength before providing additional commercial harvest opportunity.

Based on historical run timing data, ADFG estimated July 22 that 99 percent of the king run and 98 percent of the sockeye run were in the Kuskokwim River, and that escapement goals for both species would likely be met. The king salmon goal was missed for the Kuskokwim in 2013.

Chum and pink openings have continued in Norton Sound, bringing the total harvest there to about 222,000 fish, including 71,000 chums and 150,000 pinks.

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