Sluggish sockeye return slows down commercial fleet
Commercial fishing for the drift and set-net fleets was generous last week, but things look to be slowing down a bit.
The big pulses of sockeye to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers haven’t yet materialized. Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries manager Pat Shields says the commercial fleet will have the next day or two off as the department waits for a bit more information on the run.
“The news that everyone is already aware of is that Kenai River sockeye salmon passage has declined the last few days and therefore our projections for where we might end up at the end of the season for escapement have also declined. We’re going to slow things down on the commercial side the next few days. We anticipate not fishing today (Tuesday) and not fishing again on Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoon, we’ll make a decision about the regular fishing period that occurs on Thursday," Shields says.
Total harvest as of Monday was about 1.1 million fish. Passage into the Kenai River was just shy of 180,000 Monday, with a push of about 30,000 hitting the river that day. Shields says they’re also running numbers for an estimate on how many fish are in the Inlet, but they’ll need more 30-plus thousand counts in the days ahead to keep the commercial fleet, dip-netters and sports fishermen happy.
“It’s just that those fish have not made what we call that push to get into either river, the Kenai or the Kasilof; and have made themselves a little more available, therefore, to commercial harvests. So, we’re going to sit and not fish for a couple days and hopefully allow sockeye salmon to enter the Kenai River.”
Shields says they anticipate another healthy push into the Kenai today (Tuesday).
While drift- and gill-netters have grudgingly become used to fewer openings like they’ll see this week, in years past, it’s been for a different reason. King salmon returns are doing relatively well, and conservation concerns for that species aren’t slowing down commercial fishing. It’s the sluggish red return this time.
But indications right now are that it’s just a short-term issue and fishing will pick back up eventually.
Things are even slower up on the Russian, where the late sockeye run is just beginning to trickle in at barely over half the level it was at the same time last year. Down on the Kasilof, the total sockeye count stands at about 146,000, just short of where it was this same time last year.
The Kenai River late-run king salmon return is at a touch over 6,000 fish as of Monday, well on the way to the sustainable escapement goal of between 13,500 and 27,000 fish.