The 2018 commercial sockeye salmon harvest in Upper Cook Inlet is predicted to come in at what is being called “relatively” average, although it is expected to be below both the 10- and 20-year average.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a sockeye return of 4.6 million to the UCI watershed, with about 2 million going to escapement goals, 1.9 million to commercial harvests, and 700,000 to other users such as personal use, sport and subsistence.
The forecast is well below the most recent 20-year average return of 5.9 million sockeye, to the tune of 1.3 million fish, but above last season’s forecast of a 4 million sockeye return to all rivers and streams in UCI. The Kenai River is forecast to see a 2.5 million sockeye return, about 1.1 million fewer than the 20-year average of about 3.6 million. The Kasilof River is forecast at about 866,000 sockeye, the Susitna River at 329,000 and Fish Creek at 211,000 with all other unmonitored systems in Upper Cook Inlet accounting for the rest.
If the run comes in as predicted, it will be the third consecutive below-average harvest in UCI.
While the actual return came in higher than forecast in 2017, the commercial harvest did not.
The commercial harvest of 1.8 million sockeye last season was 18 percent below the 10-year average and the smallest harvest in the past 10 years.
One cause of the reduced harvest last year was run timing to the Kenai River, the main driver of commercial sockeye harvest in the Inlet.
The Kenai River run came in late, causing an eight-day shutdown of the commercial drift and East Side setnet fisheries during the traditional peak of the season, from July 21 through July 28. By late July, however, ADF&G managers had increased the run size estimate for the Kenai River which led to increasing the lower escapement goal, also increasing the amount of extra fishing time for the setnetters.
However, the drift fleet was restricted to Area 1, below Kalgin Island, and the expanded corridors due to low coho returns in the Mat-Su Valley, which actually increased coho harvests while reducing sockeye catches.
The good news is that both early- and late-run king salmon returns to the Kenai River are expected to meet escapement goals, meaning fewer restrictions for both commercial and sport fishermen.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.