Bay forecast reduced, Kenai late run begins with restrictions
Commercial salmon catches hit 23 million fish as of July 1, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s bluesheet estimate.
Despite a decreased forecast for the region, daily Bristol Bay sockeye catches are up compared to the week prior. Through July 1, commercial fishers reported a harvest of 11.1 million sockeye in the bay, the main component of the 11.3 million fish caught commercially in the area.
June 22, however, scientists at the University of Washington — which has studied Bristol Bay’s salmon runs since before statehood and provides a forecast and update every year for ADFG — reduced the forecast for the region. The reduction came in part due to low catches on the South Peninsula, and also the results of the Port Moller test fishery.
On the Nushagak River, 372,301 sockeyes were counted through June 30, less than the 707,590 counted in 2013, according to ADFG.
As of July 2, the Naknek River escapement was 990,000 sockeye, within the escapement range of 800,000 to 1.4 million.
The new sockeye forecast predicts a total run of 28.3 million fish, rather than the 29.4 million expected before the season began.
For now, however, the runs are picking up compared to earlier in the season. According to a July 1 ADFG update, the Ugashik inriver test fishery shows a push of fish into that area, and the department announced a July 2 commercial fishing period for that district.
Commercial openings were also planned for the Naknek/Kvichak District on July 2.
The department cautioned fishers to have a market before fishing; some processors have put fishers on delivery limits because of high daily catches for the last week of June.
Bristol Bay commercial fishers also caught 9,000 kings through July 1, according to the bluesheet, and 207,000 chums.
On Bristol Bay’s Nushagak River, 51,348 king salmon were counted by the sonar as of June 30, behind the 2013 run, when 69,440 kings were counted by the same date. That run is still on track to meet its escapement goal of 55,000 to 120,000 kings, however.
The Cook Inlet fisheries are also driven by sockeye, but more restrictions are in place to protect king salmon.
Through July 1, the department estimated that 333,000 salmon were caught in Cook Inlet; 323,000 were sockeyes.
Central District fishers caught 213,000 sockeyes, and the eastern district of Lower Cook Inlet caught 88,000. The department estimated that 2,000 kings were caught in Cook Inlet commercial fisheries through July 1.
Sockeye runs in Cook Inlet are generally strong. On the Kasilof River, 146,059 reds were counted through June 30, slightly below the 150,306 counted by that day in 2013, but still one of the highest-ever counts at that time. The escapement goal there is 160,000 fish to 390,000 fish.
The Russian River sockeye count was 38,583 fish through June 30, ahead of 31,510 counted by the same day in 2013 and within the escapement goal range of 22,000 to 42,000 fish. That run appeared to be tapering off however, with just 339 fish counted June 30, compared to peak days of 3,000 to 4,000 fish earlier in the run.
King runs, however, are weaker.On the Kenai River, the early-run came in just ahead of the lower bound of its escapement goal — ADFG estimated a run of 5,311 kings as through June 30, just within the 5,300 to 9,000 fish escapement goal range.
Kenai late run restrictions
ADFG announced June 26 that it would restrict sport, personal use and commercial fishers to protect kings as the late-run began. The Kenai River late-run king fishery opened July 1 with bait prohibited in any sport fishery. That triggered restrictions for personal use and commercial fishers due to management plan pairings instituted in February by the state’s Board of Fisheries.
For setnetters, the restrictions mean that regular commercial fishing periods are no longer in effect, and the fishery will be limited to no more than 36 hours of fishing per week, with a mandatory 36-hour closure beginning between 7 p.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday. All fishery openings will be announced by emergency order.
Personal use dipnet fishers will not be allowed to keep king salmon. That fishery opens July 10 and runs through July 31.
Around the state
Sockeyes are also driving commercial catches in other parts of the state. Commercial fishers harvested 2.9 million fish in the Westward Region through July 1, including 983,000 sockeye at Kodiak and 1.2 million sockeye on the Alaska Peninsula. Chums made up the second largest proportion of those catches, with 389,000 caught at the Alaska Peninsula and 94,000 at Kodiak.
Prince William Sound’s commercial fishery, which opened May 15, continues. There, the commercial harvest was about 7.8 million fish through July 1, including 2.6 million sockeye, 4.4 million pinks and 793,000 chums. Commercial fishers have also harvested 11,000 kings, with the Copper River drift fleet taking the bulk of that, or about 9,000 fish.
In Southeast Alaska, 847,000 fish were caught as of July 1, including 625,000 pinks and 77,000 sockeyes.
The northernmost fisheries in the state have also started, and the Yukon River king return appears better than the recent past.
Managers have said the Yukon run appears to be several days early, and 1,210 kings were counted at Eagle sonar counter near the Canadian border through June 30, well ahead of zero in any recent year.
Farther down river, 125,065 kings were counted at Pilot Station through June 30, ahead of the counts the past three years, which ranged from 70,000 to 92,000 by that day.
Commercial fishing on the Yukon, however, is focused on chums. Through July 1, 246,000 chums were harvested on the Yukon River, and 4,000 pinks.
That’s less than the potential chum catch, as Kwik’pak Fisheries, a Yukon River chum buyer, shut down for a day June 25 due to a water issue in Emmonak and was unable to buy any fish that day.
KNOM radio in Nome reported that Kwik’pak estimated it was unable to buy 10,000 chums because of the closure.
ADFG and federal fishery managers have also worked to provide Yukon fishers with harvest opportunity for other fish species using smaller nets, but the department announced June 29 that it would no longer allow smaller nets to be used on the upper river because of reports that fishers were targeting kings with those nets.
The use of small nets ended June 30, and managers said they would be reinstated after it appeared that the majority of kings had swum upriver or the escapement goal was likely to be met.
On the Kuskokwim River, a July 1 ADFG update said that the department expected that the king escapement goal would be met with continued conservative management. Subsistence fishers have received some harvest opportunity for chum and sockeye salmon, but no commercial catches have been reported yet this year.
The escapement goal, which was revised in 2013, calls for a return of between 65,000 and 120,000 kings. Last year, the final king count came in well less than that number, at about 47,500 kings.
The 2014 king forecast of 94,000 fish was similar to the 2013 total run size, but managers have implemented more conservative management to try and get more of those to swim upstream and spawn. Managers allowed subsistence takes for kings on the Kuskokwim last season, but the run tailed off abruptly and users upriver weren’t able to meet their needs, leading to the more conservative approach in 2014.