Sockeye harvest down 18 percent

Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishermen once again endured a below-average season, at least in terms of sockeye salmon, in spite of exceeding run forecasts.

The total run of sockeyes, which includes commercial, sport, personal use, subsistence, educational harvests and escapement, came in at approximately 4.6 million fish, 14 percent above forecast, with the main driver of the run, the Kenai River, coming in 700,000 above forecast.

However, the commercial harvest of 1.8 million sockeye was 18 percent below the 10-year average and the smallest harvest in the past 10 years.

The price for sockeye varied between processors and across the season, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates the average ex-vessel price to have been $1.86 per pound, for a value of $19.6 million, or 83 percent of the value of the commercial fishery.

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.

As of July 20, the total commercial harvest was 1.4 million sockeye, about 82 percent of the projected harvest, and Kenai River escapement stood at only 265,000 with a minimum escapement of 900,000.

By July 28 escapement had grown to 635,000 sockeye in the Kenai River, and, based on test boat data and run timing, ADF&G increased the run size estimate to more than 2.3 million, increasing the lower escapement goal by 100,000, increasing the amount of extra fishing time for setnetters to 51 hours per week, up from 24.

The drift fleet, however, ended up restricted to Area One, south of Kalgin Island, and the expanded Kenai and Kasilof corridor due to a lack of coho salmon in the Mat-Su Valley. However, due to run timing, that area had more coho than sockeye, causing tensions with sport fishermen in the Valley.

In the end, the commercial harvest of around 294,000 coho salmon was 75 percent greater than the 10-year average, and the streams in the Valley that monitor coho returns met or exceeded their escapement goals, in one case by more than double.

Like elsewhere in the state, chum salmon also came in strong, with the harvest of 239,000 chums 60 percent above the 10-year average. Most processors paid 40 cent per pound in Upper Cook Inlet, compared with 60 cents per pound in Prince William Sound.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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