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Sockeye escapement on Kasilof hits record

Redoubt Reporter

Fish counting has wrapped for the sockeye runs on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers this summer.

Over 1.5 million sockeye passed through the sonar on the river during the late Kenai River run. The escapement goal for the run set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is between 1,100,000 and 1,400,000 fish. The total escapement for that run is equal to that number minus the number of fish harvested upstream of the sonar — an average of 300,000 sockeye.

The Kasilof River run of 971,604 sockeye will far exceed its goalposts and is a record for the run.

“It’s considerably above our escapement goal," said Brian Marston, area manager for Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries. "The upper end of our escapement goal is 320,000.”

Marston said it’s not that the run itself was much larger than usual — it’s that there wasn’t as much commercial fishing taking place to harvest those fish.

“The high escapements are at least partially due to lack of harvest effort in the east-side set-net fishery," Marston said.

Set-netters on the east side of Cook Inlet were cut off early this year, with their fishery closing in mid-July amid low king salmon counts. That’s when the sockeye run on the Kasilof surged and hit daily records.

Marston said the long-term average annual harvest for the fishery is about 1 million sockeye. This year, Marston said, set-netters caught about 100,000 fish.

He said there was also low effort from Cook Inlet drift fleet this year, who had a below-average season.

Marston said he does have some concerns about the impact of high escapement on the future of the fishery. That’s in part because the higher density a fish population gets, the more competition there is for food among rearing fish.

“Certainly, when you go over the goal, it increases the possibility that you’ll get more yields in the future," he said. "And we have gone significantly over for three years in a row now in Kasilof. So it looks like we could have some lower yields in the future, we just don’t know what that’ll be or when.”

He said his department won’t know for several seasons how severe of an impact those numbers will have on the run.

This isn’t actually the end of the run — it’s just when Fish and Game stops counting. Still, the number of salmon running at this point is inconsequential enough that Marston says those counts just don’t make a difference.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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