Sockeye harvest tops ’14 as Bristol Bay run nears state’s forecast

Bristol Bay’s late-arriving sockeye run has contributed to a healthy commercial harvest of more than 47.6 million sockeye statewide, though some fisheries have yet to heat up with strangely behaving tardy returns.

Statewide, the sockeye harvest has already surpassed the 2014 total and on the contentious Kenai River, king salmon have rebounded from the lows of 2012-14 and the run size has eased restrictions on all user groups.

After one of the latest run starts in the history of the fishery, Bristol Bay is nosing closer to its original Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial harvest projection of 37.6 million. As of July 29, the total commercial sockeye harvest in Bristol Bay is 35.5 million fish.

Volume is only one part of the equation that’s started Bristol Bay fishermen at 50 cents per pound for their sockeye, far less than the $1.20 per pound paid last year.

In Upper Cook Inlet, the sockeye harvest is less rosy but biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are confident it will improve. The July 24 cumulative commercial harvest was 1.7 million sockeye, far less than the average for that date.

On July 28, ADFG loosened bag limits for sockeye sport fishermen in response to healthy projections for Upper Cook Inlet salmon. ADFG projects the Kenai River sockeye salmon late-run will exceed 2.3 million fish and anticipates the escapement goal of 700,000 to 1.2 million sockeye salmon will be achieved.

For king salmon, the Kenai River is looking up from previous years. ADFG restored the Kenai River sport fishery to bait and allowed for the retention of one king salmon per household in the personal use dipnet fishery.

On July 27, the in-river run totaled 15,082 kings at the Mile 14 sonar counter, barely crossing the lower end of the escapement goal and exceeding the cumulative count for same date last year by nearly 8,000 fish.

Copper River reds are coming in on average. As of July 24, the total Copper River District harvest is 1.42 million sockeye and 22,800 chinook salmon. The 5-year harvest averages for July 20 are 1.77 million sockeye salmon and 11,345 chinook salmon, respectively.

Prince William Sound pink salmon are setting records. The total pink salmon harvest through July 22 is estimated at 33.5 million fish, the largest amount on record for that date.

Chignik had a late run similar to those in Bristol Bay and Upper Cook Inlet. On July 28, the total commercial sockeye harvest was 989,000 sockeyes, far fewer than the projected harvest of 1.9 million.

Through July 27, the Kodiak commercial haul is 4.9 million pink salmon and 1.6 million sockeye salmon.