Cook Inlet salmon seasonfalls short of expectations

Once again, the 2016 Upper Cook Inlet salmon season fell far short of expectations.

The 2016 commercial harvest of around 3 million salmon was 12 percent less than the most recent 10-year average harvest of 3.5 million salmon of all species, but even lower for sockeyes.

The dollar value was also lower, coming in at $22.3 million, 23 percent less than the 10-year average.

While all five species of salmon are caught and sold in Cook Inlet, sockeyes have made up almost 93 percent of the value for at least the past 20 years.

The total run of sockeye salmon was estimated at 5.2 million fish, 27 percent less than forecast. The commercial harvest of sockeye came in at 2.4 million, well below the projected harvest of 4.1 million fish and 17 percent less than the 10-year average.

Sockeyes came in lower than forecasted across the board in UCI this year.

The Kasilof River run, estimated at 559,000, was the lowest since 1995. The Kasilof has seen chronic over-escapement in recent years, despite the best efforts of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including opening a special harvest area at the mouth of the river, a tool of last resort because of fish quality and complaints from dipnetters. That area was not opened this year.

The fishery management plan clashed with itself in the Kenai River, where the plan calls for restrictions to both set gillnet and sport fisheries at different thresholds for late-run king salmon.

By Aug. 2, the projection for king salmon was less than the 22,500 threshold; however, due to concerns about over-escapement of sockeye in the Kenai River, the upper sub-district setnet fishermen were given extra fishing time.

The Kenai River sockeye escapement came in at 1.386 million, above the goal of 1.35 million.

The drift fleet had another miserable year, with the peak catch per boat topping out at 355 sockeye, although it was above the peak catch per boat in 2015, which was 278 sockeye, the lowest since 1985. Last year ADF&G area management biologist Pat Shields called it “the worst best day ever.”

This year also saw the largest pink salmon, with the state record being broken twice in one day. The ultimate winner was caught on the Kenai River weighing 13 pounds 10.6 ounces. The previous record of 12 pounds 9 ounces was caught in 1974 on the Moose River.

Cristy Fry can be reached at