Kenai kings barely meet goal; record set for salmon catch

The Kenai River kings seem to have met their escapement goal after all, but it was still the lowest return on record.

Through Aug. 15, 17,028 kings were enumerated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s DIDSON (duel identification sonar), slightly more than the bottom of the sustainable escapement goal range for Kenai River kings.

That’s still far fewer fish than in recent years, which have seen runs of 24,000 and 27,000 fish. The Kenai king escapement goal is 15,000 to 30,000 fish.

The preliminary estimate for in-river mortality is 1,619 fish from sport caught and catch-and-release mortality, making the preliminary escapement estimate 15,409 fish.

Additional postseason work will be done this fall to confirm that the run count seems correct, and the goal was met.

While some Cook Inlet fishermen haven’t had as much commercial harvest opportunity as they hoped for, statewide the harvest has been strong, largely due to pink salmon catches.

Through Aug. 20, commercial fishermen had harvested 236 million salmon, more than the preseason forecast of 178 million fish, according to ADFG’s blue sheet estimate.

This is only the fifth year the total commercial harvest has exceeded 200 million salmon, and is more than the 221 million salmon harvest record, set in 2005.

Much of the state’s harvest has come from Southeast Alaska, where 84.2 million salmon were landed through Aug. 20.

The Southeast catch includes 72 million pinks and 9 million chums, as well as about 223,000 kings, which were not part of the preseason forecast.

Prince William Sound has also seen a strong pink harvest at 83 million fish, in addition to about 3 million chums and 2 million sockeyes landed there this summer.

In Kodiak, about 21.5 million of the total 24.6 million fish harvested this summer were pinks.

The pink catch has also been rising for the Alaska Peninsula, where 7.5 million of the 11.7 million fish harvested so far this summer were pinks.

Chignik landings, however, remain predominantly sockeyes, with that species making up about 2.3 million of the 3.4 million fish landed in the region.

In Bristol Bay, the coho landings continue to rise, with 102,000 caught through Aug. 20, out of a total 16.5 million salmon. Much of the remainder of the Bristol Bay catch were sockeyes; fishermen also harvested 766,000 chums.

Likewise, in Cook Inlet, fishermen have harvested about 4.7 million fish, including 2.7 million sockeyes and 1.5 million pinks. Central district fishermen continue to catch cohos as well, with about 208,000 cohos landed there out of a total 250,000 cohos harvested in all Cook Inlet.

The statewide coho harvest has continued to climb, hitting 2.8 million compared to a preseason forecast of 3.9 million, and coho returns continue throughout the state.

Through Aug. 20, 17,155 coho salmon were counted on the Deshka River, at the north end of Cook Inlet. That’s nearly triple the 6,825 counted on the Deshka through Sept. 4, 2012, when counting ended.

Cook Inlet’s Little Susitna coho run is also strong, with 11,854 counted through Aug. 20.

On the Nushagak River, in Bristol Bay, 200,448 cohos were counted through Aug. 20, fewer than in 2012 but still enough for liberalized fishing opportunity for both sport and commercial users.

At Pilot Station on the Yukon, 33,552 cohos were counted through Aug. 18, more than the 27,217 counted by the same day in 2012, but far less than the 50,683 counted by the same day in 2011.

On the George River, a Kuskokwim area waterway, 1,389 cohos were counted through Aug. 19, fewer than the 2,552 counted by the same day in 2012.

The Ayakulik River coho run hit 3,933 fish Aug. 19, more than were counted by the same day in 2011 or 2012. 

Sockeye runs are also winding down.

In Southeast Alaska’s Speel Arm, sockeye fishing has been liberalized now that hatchery needs were met.

The Fish Creek sockeye count has dwindled to just a few fish a day, with 18,785 sockeyes counted through Aug. 20 including 3 that day, and 9 the day before. That’s slightly more than the total 2012 run of 18,743 fish.

On Kodiak Island, 336,263 sockeyes have been counted on the Karluk River through Aug. 20, well ahead of the 266,734 counted by the same day in 2012. 

And at Chignik, the count through Aug. 19 was 647,450, well ahead of the 2012 count of 616,048 counted by the same day in 2012. That run is slowing down too, with 2,371 fish counted Aug. 19, down from as many as 24,000 fish counted on a single day in July.