Setnets, sport catch closed for Kenai king salmon concerns

Photo/Peninsula Clarion/Rashah McChesney

King salmon concerns have continued to take the forefront of salmon management on the central Kenai Peninsula this summer.

Managers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, closed king salmon fishing on the Kenai River effective July 26. That triggered a closure of most commercial setnetting on the east side of Cook Inlet as well. Setnetters target sockeye primarily, but also catch kings in their nets.

The Kenaitze Tribe’s educational fishery was also further restricted, going back down to one net, rather than two, as had been allowed earlier in the month.

Through July 28, 11,224 late-run kings were counted on the Kenai River — slightly more than the 10,943 counted by that same date in 2013, but less than any other recent year.

Setnetters have been limited so far this season, with the Kenai East Side section opened just three times for a total of 36 hours since the season began earlier in July.

The Kasilof River Special Harvest area  — a narrow stretch of beach near the mouth of the Kasilof River — and the Kasilof section of the East Side setnet fishery have had more harvest opportunity, however.

The commercial drift fleet is also limited, and now cannot fish within one mile of the beach.

Through July 29, ADFG estimated the commercial harvest in Cook Inlet at 3 million salmon, including 2.3 million sockeyes. That harvest came primarily in the Central District, where fishermen have landed about 2.1 million sockeyes.

About 4,000 kings have been commercially caught in Cook Inlet, split nearly evenly between the Northern and Central districts. There was a targeted king salmon commercial fishery in the Northern District during May and June with about 1,500 kings harvested.

Among the king salmon caught in the Central District, the drift fleet harvested about 280 and the setnet harvest outside of Kasilof River area is about 1,300 kings.

The Kenai River sockeye run is stronger than the king run, but not as large as the recent past.

As of July 28, 732,225 sockeyes were counted on the Kenai, less than the 1.2 million by the same date in 2013.

ADFG estimated that the Kenai run so far was 1.9 million fish, with the total run expected to come in between 2.7 million and 4.3 million fish.

King fishing in other Peninsula fisheries has also been restricted, as managers typically try to share restrictions on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers to prevent a shift in effort. Also effective July 26, the Kasilof went to catch-and-release for Kasilof River kings. Another emergency order closed marine sportfishing for kings in Cook Inlet north of Bluff Point.

Other Upper Cook Inlet king runs are doing better this summer.

Although most king fishing in the Matanuska-Susitna area is closed, the counts appear stronger.

The Deshka River appears likely to meet its goal of 13,000 to 28,000 kings, with 16,246 kings counted through July 28 — behind the 18,290 counted by the same date in 2013 but ahead of 2012’s 13,902.

On the Little Su, 3,082 kings were counted through July 28, ahead of the 2,297 counted by the same day in 2013. This is the second year of a weir count on that river, and a weir-based escapement goal is not yet available.

Statewide commercial catches continue

Statewide, the commercial harvest reached 87.3 million salmon through July 29 according to ADFG’s bluesheet estimate.

The statewide total includes about 40 million sockeye, 38 million pinks, 6.9 million chums, 1,133 cohos and 395,000 kings.

The pink catch was the strongest in the past week, driven largely by the Southeast Alaska harvest. There, about 7.8 million pinks were landed through July 29, up from about 2.6 million landed through July 22.

In the Central Region, which includes Prince William Sound, Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet, the pink catch went from 22.6 million through July 22, to 27.2 million through July 29.

Kodiak fishermen are also landing pinks; more than 1 million were caught from July 23 to 29. The bluesheet estimate through July 29 was 2.8 million pinks, up from 993,000 through July 22.

The strong pink catches, however, come after 2013’s record pink catches, resulting in a surplus of canned pink salmon on the market that is driving down prices.

Gov. Sean Parnell asked the federal government to purchase canned pinks in a July 23 letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“The 2013 ‘bumper crop’ resulted in an unsold inventory of over 6.1 million cases, or two years of fish at the current level of demand,” Parnell wrote.

He also wrote that the price this season is lower than last year at about 28 cents per pound compared to 42 cents per pound in 2013.

The USDA purchased some canned pinks earlier this year.

Other salmon catches also continue throughout the state.

In Prince William Sound, the total salmon harvest as of July 29 was estimated at 31.1 million fish, with about 4 million pinks harvested between July 23 and 29. The sockeye catch there was estimated at about 3.2 million fish through July 29, and is winding down.

At Bristol Bay, the salmon catch is estimated at about 29.2 million salmon, including 28.7 million sockeye, 13,000 kings, 438,000 chums and 54,000 pinks.

In Southeast, another troll openers for kings is planned, and the regional king harvest through July 29 was estimated at 353,000.

Coho and chum harvests in Southeast have also increased, with coho landings nearly doubling from 448,000 as of July 23 to 713,000 as of July 29. About 900,000 chums were landed in the same period, with this summer’s total hitting 3,699 through July 29.

In the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, commercial fishing has slowed down somewhat. Through July 29, the area-wide harvest was estimated at 1.1 million fish, including 810,00 chums and 230,000 pinks.

Rashah McChesney of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai contributed to this report.

11/22/2016 - 2:06pm