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Driftnetters to wet nets for the first time Thursday

Commercial salmon fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet will finally get a chance to put their nets in the water on Thursday. It is the first of the fleet’s regular 12-hour Monday-and-Thursday scheduled fishing openings.

Brian Marston, Fish and Game’s area manager for Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries, says this opening will be district-wide.

“The first opening is always kind of a question mark," Marston said. "And we have fairly low participation, at that. Usually between 30-and-50 boats, (but) potentially we have 500 boats out there. So participation is usually kind of low for this first one.”

He said last year’s first opening brought in about 2,000 sockeye and just four or five king salmon.

Sockeye salmon returns elsewhere in the state have lagged in both numbers and size, especially in Prince William Sound, where the Copper River reds are few and far between.

“The first indications we have really, for the year, are counts on the Kenai River, at the confluence of the Russian River. Now those fish are well past the nets, but that run is looking okay right now," he said. "So the early run Kenai fish that go up the Russian River, that run is looking okay. We just put in the Kasilof sockeye sonar and have a couple counts since Friday. that fishery is a little below last year, but it’s not looking too bad yet, either. I would wait and see what gets caught and how the weather conditions are. It’s not as dreary as what’s happening over in the Copper River area.”

The total Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon forecast is 4.6 million fish, with an expected commercial harvest of about 1.9 million. That’s about 900,000 fish less than the most recent 10-year average harvest of 2.8 million.