5.1 million: Fish and Game forecasts somewhat stronger sockeye run in the Upper Cook Inlet, but still well below historical average
Sockeye salmon are forecasted to return somewhat stronger this year in the Upper Cook Inlet. But the forecast comes as state fisheries managers have closed King salmon sport fishing and the east side set net fishery altogether this summer, amid a continuing trend of declining runs in the region.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting this year’s sockeye runs “average” at an estimated 5.1 million fish, with approximately 3.12 million available for harvest. That includes commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fishing.
Tad Russell is an upper Cook Inlet drift fisherman, and has been commercial fishing in the inlet since 2009. He says, like most years, he’s cautiously optimistic about the season ahead.
“It's not horrible, it's not great. It's a little less than the 20-year average. And, you know, a forecast is a forecast. It's like a good guess. So you can only hope for the best," Russell said.
The state’s forecast is a slight increase from last year’s projection, which was categorized as weak at 4.97 million sockeye in 2022. The actual harvest last year for fishing fleets in Cook Inlet showed a bit of a bump with 5.2 million for the total run and 1.4 million sockeye harvested.
Russell says it’s a complicated fishery, but last year he had a good harvest.
This year’s forecast still falls far short of the 20-year average of 6 million fish. Escapement this year is projected to stay the same with a goal of 2 million sockeye.
The Upper Cook Inlet runs have been low for the last several years, and plagued by local, state and federal management conflicts, legal action, and out-of-cycle proposals to the Board of Fisheries.
Earlier this month, the Department of Fish and Game closed the king salmon sport and east side set-net fisheries, much earlier than usual.
The department said that they will closely monitor the king salmon abundance in the Kenai River, and if the run outperforms the 13,630 fish forecast and escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000, then the east side set-net (ESSN) fisheries may be opened this season.