Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishermen may see an improvement in their catch this summer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasting a total sockeye run of around 6 million fish.
Escapement will likely take up 2 million of those drainage-wide, leaving around 3 million sockeye for commercial harvest and the rest expected to be harvested in the sport, subsistence and personal-use fisheries.
The forecast, which was released last Friday, looks for an increase of about 200,000 sockeye salmon above the 20-year average in the Kenai River, the main driver of the fishery. The Kenai River forecast is for a total run of about 3.8 million; the 20-year average is 3.6 million fish.
That forecast means ADF&G is looking for escapement of 1 to 1.3 million sockeye. The Kenai River is the only one in the state with three different escapement goals based on run size, a bone of contention for commercial fishermen as there is no biological reason for the regulation and has led to chronic overescapement.
A commercial harvest of 3 million sockeye would be a welcome change over last season, when only 800,000 were caught. The total run was only 3.1 million, 1.5 million below forecast.
ADF&G forecasts four rivers in the drainage: Kenai, Kasilof, Susitna rivers and Fish Creek.
In addition to the Kenai River, the Kasilof River is expected to see a fairly strong run of about 873,000 sockeye, above last season’s forecast of 866,000. Last season that run fell short of forecast by 19 percent but went above the top end of its escapement goal of 340,000 sockeye by nearly 60,000 fish. That was in spite of four days of fishing in the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area, directly in the mouth of the river.
The over-escapement was a result of slow returns to the Kenai River that resulted in the commercial fishery being shut down for much of July in every area except the KRSHA.
There may be some trouble on the horizon, though. ADF&G has already announced the emergency closure of the directed commercial fishery for king salmon in the Northern District, as well as shutting down all king salmon sport fishing in the entire Susitna drainage, including the Deshka River. If weir counts, guide logbooks, fishwheels, boat surveys and aerial surveys show sufficient run strength there may be fishing opportunity.
ADF&G states that the restrictions are necessary to preserve stocks for future runs.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.