Commercial fishing season resumes, royal restrictions in place
Commercial fishing is underway in Upper Cook Inlet. Some fishermen north of Kenai have had their nets in the water since May, but fixed net and drift gillnet license holders enter the heat of the moment as sockeye returns from Kenai and Kasilof resume. This is where the majority of the harvest is located.
So far, commercial fishermen have caught 303,582 salmon of all species. About 96 percent of this is sockeye, however, it is the silverfish in Cook Inlet. So far, approximately 195,000 sockeye have passed sonar on the Kasilof River, and 103,000 sockeye have passed Kenai sonar, which will go live on July 1.
It’s still too early in the year for pink and silver salmon, and chum salmon are not a significant commercial species in much of Upper Cook Inlet. In the past, king salmon were, especially for set nets, but over the past decade they have declined. Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen harvested 2,793 this season, more than half of which was caught by net fishermen in the cove north of Kenai.
“As of July 9, the estimate of the total harvest of large king salmon from the Kenai River in the east side set net fishery was 91 fish,” said Brian Marston, Business Area Management Biologist for Upper Cook Inlet, in the daily Fish and Jeu ad. “The total harvest of king salmon of all sizes and stocks in the set nets on the east side was 525.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today opened a 12-hour commercial fishing period. Drifting buoys are allowed in the corridor that runs along the peninsula between Kenai and Kasilof as well as in the center of the cove, in an area called Drift Area 1.
The forecast for this year’s harvest across Upper Cook Inlet is 2.37 million sockeye. Fishermen have a long way to go if they are to meet this goal before most of the fishery closes in August and the effort drops.
A limiting factor so far has been the equipment. The commercial fishery is linked to the sport fishing of king salmon on the Kenai River when the number of king salmon is too low to allow an unrestricted harvest, known as “paired restrictions”. Due to restrictions on early run kings, commercial fishermen in June were limited on the types of gear they could use. They were also limited in time. Sport fishermen could not keep the kings from the first runs, and the race made the escape goal.
July kicked off the late Kings’ comeback, and Fish and Game started the month with a harvest, but no bait is allowed in the sport fishery for Kenai King Salmon. However, this afternoon, the department announced that effective Wednesday, the king run will be caught and released only until July 31.
Projections predict the return of king salmon to only 10,778 large fish, which is well below the lower end of the escapement target of at least 15,000 large fish. The run is lower even than low forecasts, and without harvest restrictions, managers do not expect it to meet the escapement goal, according to the Interim Order.
This means that in addition to the gear restrictions, net fishermen on the east side do not fish more than 24 hours per week. This is usually done in two 12 hour periods.
Fish and Game also switched sport fishing from the King of the Kasilof River to catch and release fishing, in part to prevent the Kenai’s diverted fishing effort from focusing on the Kasilof.
The ministry said it would continue to monitor the race and make changes if necessary based on in-season information.
Contact Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]