Managers 'cautiously optimistic' about Yukon king goals
The 2014 Yukon River king run could come in stronger than managers expected before the season began, they said during a June 24 conference call with Yukon residents.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt said that if the king run is 80 percent complete as of June 23, as managers think it might be, it could come in at about 121,000 fish for the whole drainage.
“That is very, very encouraging to us,” Schmidt said.
That’s likely enough fish to meet escapement goals, and put enough fish upriver to meet the Pacific Salmon Treaty requirement calling for 42,500 fish to cross the border. In 2013, an estimated 30,573 made it across the border.
At the expected strength, the 2014 king run would still be below average, according to Schmidt, but beyond the 2013 run, when just more than 117,00 fish were counted at the Pilot sonar, and at the upper end of the pre-season forecast, of 64,000 to 121,000 fish.
When that 2014 forecast was announced this spring, managers cautioned that the run could come in at the low end.
Schmidt said the department was “cautiously optimistic” about the 2014 run, although no estimates would be finalized until after managers see how many fish are counted at escapement projects.
But despite the potential run strength, the management strategy is still conservative, and Yukon River fishers were still reporting frustration that they couldn’t fish during the June 24 call.
On the lower river, where communities have already seen multiple pulses of fish go by, the report from Kotlik was a question about when the restrictions would be lifted so that fishers could fill their freezers.
Farther upriver, in Old Crow, a resident said the community was surprised to see the first pulse swim by early, and that whitefish nets were pulled out of the river for a voluntary community-wide fishing closure to protect those fish.
On the Canadian side of the border, the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee, a part of the Pacific Salmon Commission, recommended closing the Canadian-origin run for 2014.
ADFG is also maintaining closures, with even subsistence king fishing closed all along the Yukon for several days following the June 24 call, although that will be evaluated as the third pulse moves upriver.
However, managers said they’ll look for ways to ensure a chum harvest, with a switch to a chum-focused management strategy, rather than a management strategy focused on king protections.
On the lower Yukon, 162,000 chums were caught in the commercial fishery through June 24, according to ADFG’s bluesheet estimate.
Other northern fisheries are also underway, with fishers on the Kuskokwim getting their first opening June 20 and Norton Sound openings also scheduled.
For most of the Kuskokwim River, from Eek Island to the wildlife refuge boundary at near Aniak, subsistence fishing was open to fishers with certain net limitations as of June 24, although king fishing remained closed.
Subsistence freshwater and marine fishing openings were planned in Norton Sound for June 25. Better than expected chum runs meant that commercial fishing opened for 24 hours beginning at 6 p.m. in Golovin, Elim and Norton Bay subdistricts.
Strong sockeye catches continue
Other commercial fisheries throughout the state are also taking off. Statewide, the commercial catch through June 24 was 5.8 million salmon, including 4.1 million sockeye.
Prince William Sound catches made up the largest proportion of the state’s harvest, at 2.9 million fish according to ADFG’s bluesheet estimate, including 2.1 million sockeye, 577,000 chums and 198,000 pinks.
Copper River drifters — who caught the largest portion of the Prince William Sound sockeye harvest — also took about 9,000 kings through June 24.
Cook Inlet fishers have also received more fishing opportunity than expected, as early sockeye runs come in strong and king runs are slightly better than anticipated.
Through June 23, 4,585 early-run kings were counted on the Kenai River, compared to 1,343 at the same time last year during a record-low return. The minimum escapement goal is 5,300 kings.
In 2012 on June 23, the count was 4,217.
On the Russian River, the early-run sockeye count was 30,983 fish through June 24. The escapement goal range is 22,000 to 42,000 and sport fishing was liberalized, with managers opening the Russian River sanctuary early and increasing the daily bag limit to six fish and the possession limit to 12 fish. Those changes are in effect through July 14.
The Kasilof sockeye count was 93,606 through June 23. Fishing time was increased for the June 16 and 23 commercial king openings in Upper Cook Inlet’s Northern District, and the Kasilof-area setnet fishery opened June 23, two days early, due to the strong sockeye counts, with a regular fishing period expected June 26.
Through June 24, 146,000 salmon were caught in Cook Inlet, including 53,000 sockeyes in the Upper Cook Inlet and 90,000 in the lower Inlet.
At Bristol Bay, 365,000 salmon were caught through June 24, including 190,000 sockeyes in the Egegik District and 155,000 sockeyes in the Naknek-Kvichak District.
The western Alaska commercial sockeye catch totaled 1.3 million sockeyes through June 24, including 831,000 in Kodiak and 561,000 at the Alaska Peninsula.
In Southeast, the commercial catch is driven by other species. Out of 209,000 fish caught this year, just 44,000 were sockeye. The largest portion were kings — 102,000 of those were caught, although that includes the winter troll fishery, which began Oct. 11, 2013. Southeast fishers have also harvested 58,000 chums.