Bay forecast below average; Lower Cook Inlet meeting on tap

Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers are calling for a below-average sockeye run in Bristol Bay next summer.

Between 18.3 million and 34.8 million sockeye salmon are expected in nine Bristol Bay river systems in 2014, with the forecast calling for a run that is most likely 26.6 million fish.

At that run size, about 17.9 million fish would be caught in the commercial common property harvest, with 8.66 million fish for escapement. That commercial catch would largely go to Bristol Bay fishermen, with those in the South Peninsula fisheries expected to take 1.06 million salmon.

All rivers are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals, but according to ADFG’s forecast, the run size is about 32 percent less than the 10-year average, and 18 percent lower than the long-term historic average.

ADFG released that estimate Nov. 27, a revision from the original 2014 forecast. Overall, managers expect the 2014 season to be similar to 2013 when less than 17 million sockeyes were caught in the commercial fishery.

The Bristol Bay run forecast is the sum of predictions for nine rivers in Bristol Bay, with each river expected to meet its escapement goal. Since 2001, the forecast has generally underpredicted returns to the Alagnak, Togiak, Wood and Kvichak rivers, and overforecasted returns to the Igushik, Egegik, Ugashik, Naknek and Nushagak rivers.

The 2014 run is expected to be dominated by fish that have spent one year in freshwater and two in the ocean, at about 38 percent of those three-year old fish, with another 34 percent of the fishery having spent one year freshwater and three years in the ocean. That’s a shift from 2013, when about 48 percent of the run was one-year river, three-year ocean fish.

Lower Cook Inlet up for discussion

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries will meet in Anchorage to discuss Lower Cook Inlet fisheries Dec. 8-11 at the Egan Civic and Convention Center.

The board is tasked with considering 45 proposals that deal primarily with sport and commercial fishing, as well as personal use and subsistence issues.

The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, or CIAA, has submitted three proposals dealing with hatcheries that the board will consider as the Committee of the Whole.

The CIAA proposals would create management plans for the Trail Lakes Salmon Hatchery, Port Graham Salmon Hatchery and Tutka Bay Lagoon Salmon Hatchery, with each determining harvest priorities in the region.

A fourth hatchery-related proposal would change the Resurrection Bay Salmon Management plan. John McCombs, a fisherman from Ninilchik, proposed closing the Bear Creek sport fishery until the brood stock goal is met each year.

In the committee of the whole process, the entire board will discuss those. Testimony and deliberations on the hatchery proposals will likely come Dec. 9 and 10.

Changes to other Cook Inlet fisheries will also come up during the board’s committee process.

The Homer Advisory Committee has asked the board to close the Anchor River to sport fishing on Wednesdays, reduce the king bag and possession limits on the Ninilchik River, allow the use of sport-caught pink, chum and spiny dogfish for bait in salt water, and decrease the lingcod bag and possession limit.

The Kenai Advisory Committee and individuals, mostly from the Kenai Peninsula, have also submitted proposals for changes, including fishery date and gear changes, allowing the use of archery gear in salt water, and changes to bag limits in several areas.

ADFG has also asked for several changes, including a date change for sportfishing in the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Stariski Creek, a boundary change for the Clearwater Creek drainage, a marking requirement for the China Poot personal-use salmon fishery, and changes to groundfish pot storage and landing requirements.

Other changes proposed by ADFG include a clarification to the open periods for subsistence salmon fishing in Seldovia Bay and a change to the waters closed to commercial fishing.

The department has also asked for a change to bring the youth-only fishery regulations in Homer’s Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon inline with actual fishing opportunity.

When the board hears about LCI hatcheries, it will also begin working on proposals regarding sport and commercial fishing that are not due for a decision until the Upper Cook Inlet meeting that is scheduled to begin Jan. 31, also in Anchorage.

Those changes are 10 proposals from stakeholders regarding sport fishing, and two regarding commercial fishing.

The proposals address a variety of issues, including prohibiting catch and release salmon fishing in Cook Inlet fresh waters, changing allowable hooks, prohibiting sport fishing in major spawning areas where spawning fish are present, limiting export of sport-caught fish, closing waters to commercial fishing within one mile of the mouth of anadromous streams and changing gear regulations for commercial fishermen to protect kings.

The board will talk about other commercial fishing issues that aren’t set for a decision until the Kodiak meeting. The proposals up for a decision in Kodiak would create groundfish and pollock fisheries in state waters with certain specifications, and require 100 percent observer coverage

Public testimony for the Lower Cook Inlet meeting will likely begin Dec. 8, with additional time allotted during the committee processes for individuals and advisory committees to weigh in on specific proposals.

No stock of concern status changes are recommended for Lower Cook Inlet, but two escapement goal changes are, according to an October presentation by ADFG.

At Mikfik Lake, on the southwest side of the inlet, the department said the new sockeye salmon goal should have an expanded range, and be based on video counts rather than an aerial survey because that’s how the run was assessed in 2013.

For Dogfish Lagoon Creeks, southeast of Homer, Fish and Game recommended adding a pink salmon goal. Fair said there has been increased effort targeting those fish because of an improving market for pinks, and a goal would the department manage the fishery.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

12/04/2013 - 10:43am