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Sockeyes run strong, kings weak statewide

Posted: July 4, 2013 - 10:15pm  |  Updated: July 5, 2013 - 12:12am

Sockeye runs throughout the state are picking up, and so far, fishermen are seeing more fishing opportunity than last summer.

By June 30, more than 1 million sockeyes had been harvested in the Kodiak Management Area, with 42,223 estimated to have been taken June 30.

On the Karluk River, which usually has the largest sockeye run on Kodiak Island, 215,273 sockeyes were counted through June 30, well above the 175,467 by the same date in 2012.

The Ayakulik, another major river in the area, hit 165,283 sockeyes June 30, more than the 2012 escapement of 143,692 on the same date.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, announced additional openings and extensions for certain portions of the Kodiak commercial fleet targeting salmon June 27, and liberalized the fishery further on July 1. Some closed waters were also reduced at that time. Kings, however, could not be retained by purse seine gear in some areas.

King returns on the Karluk and Ayakulik are smaller than last year so far. On the Ayakulik, generally the strongest king fishing on the island, 1,900 kings were counted as of June 30, compared to 3,275 in 2012.

On the Karluk, 1,598 kings had returned through June 30, down from 2,753 in 2012.

The Copper River driftnet fleet has also exceeded the 1 million mark, with an estimated 1.27 million sockeyes and 8,409 kings harvested by early July.

On the Copper River, the season started slowly, with a below average sockeye return and a nonoperational south bank counter due to ice and water level. By June 10, the run was coming in strong, with more than 100,000 fish in one day.

As of July 1, the run was well above what was expected, with 952,381 fish returning compared to an expected 525,335.

Salmon runs are exhibiting similar patterns elsewhere in the state, with opportunities for fishermen to take sockeyes, but king fishing limited. For the most part, the runs so far are generally better than 2012, when disaster declarations were made for the Cook Inlet, Yukon and Kuskokwim fisheries.

In Cook Inlet, sockeye have been rushing back to the Kasilof River.

Through June 30, 149,818 sockeye had returned, close to the optimal escapement goal’s lower end of 160,000 salmon, and well above the returns by the same date in both 2011 and 2012.

The Kasilof section was open for drift net and setnet fishing June 27 and 30, and an ADFG release said that genetic information from the June 27 fishery showed Kenai Kings to be a relatively small portion of the commercial harvest.

Kenai Kings, however, are having another slow year.

Early-run Kenai king salmon estimates are below 2012 and 2011 numbers, with about 1,742 fish estimated to have returned through June 27, compared to 2,306 in 2012.

As of June 27, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was expecting a lower-than-predicted early-run king return of 1,800 to 2,000 fish based on the run size so far.

Sport fishermen have had early run restrictions and closures in response to the low king numbers.

On the Russian River, the sockeye run started strong in early June, and hit 31,510 fish by June 30, more than the 19,064 that returned by the same date in 2012.

Through July 1, the Anchor River, farther south in Cook Inlet, had seen a return of about 2,908 kings, down compared to 3,106 on the same day in 2012, but more than 2011’s 2,699 kings. The return so far is still below the lower bound of the sustainable escapement goal range of 3,800 kings.

At the north end of Cook Inlet, king returns on the Deshka River are doing better than last year, and have already met the lower bound of the escapement goal.

The biological escapement goal for the Deshka is 13,00 to 28,000 kings.

July 1, ADFG counted 1,518 kings, bringing the total so far this year to 15,185, ahead of 2012’s 11,681 fish, but behind 2011, when the return was estimated at 16,910 that same day.

Yukon, Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula

Yukon River returns are looking slightly better than last year, with 74,791 kings passing Pilot Station by June 30, compared to 73,958 by that time in 2012.

According to a July 1 ADFG announcement, the king run is later this year than in years past, and likely won’t be a particularly strong one.

Catch per unit effort has been below historical averages for the king setnet and drift net fisheries, and chum drift net fishery.

The summer chum run has been stronger than anticipated, however, and dipnets and beach seines are being used to harvest them under regulations changed this year by Alaska’s Board of Fisheries.

As of June 30, 1.79 million summer chums had reached Pilot Station, compared to 1.27 million on the same date in 2012.

According to the July 1 announcement, both subsistence and commercial users will have the opportunity to target chums, and gillnets will be allowed.

For the Kuskokwim area, ADFG announced that subsistence users were meeting their needs as of late June, and that the department continued to work on providing harvest opportunity for sockeyes while conserving kings.

At the Bethel Test Fishery, the king catch per unit effort was lower June 30 than in any recent year, while sockeye numbers were exceeding the 2012 performance.

On the Kanektok River, 38 kings and 12,526 sockeyes were counted as of June 30.

Commercial fishing in Kuskokwim Bay was also opening periodically.

Alaska Peninsula returns have also been strong. Both the Chignik and Nelson River weir counts have outpaced 2012 for king and sockeye counts.

Through June 30, 373,166 sockeyes were counted at Chignik, more than the 317,148 on the same day in 2012. The Nelson River was at 188,194 sockeyes through July 1, more than triple 2012’s run at 51,975 on the same day that year.

Through July 1, the king count at the Nelson River weir was at 831, compared to 130 by July 1, 2012. For Chignik, 90 fish had returned through June 30, compared to 30 fish by the same day in 2012.

Southeast, Bristol Bay

Southeast Alaska fisheries are also going strong. The spring troll fishery opened May 1, and through June 27, about 31,225 kings had been harvested.

That fishery has been ahead of the 2012 harvest and the five-year average, and targets primarily hatchery fish.

The summer troll season was set to open July 1.

Pink and chum harvests in the purse seine fishery were also above average in Southeast, and total season harvests were expected to be 54 million pinks and 12.5 million chums.

Sportfishing is also strong in much of Southeast. The U.S. Forest Service’s Redoubt Lake weir near Stika counted 3,700 sockeyes between June 14 and 27, for a projected escapement of more than 30,000 salmon this year, which is more than the upper bounds of the optimal escapement goal. As a result, ADFG liberalized the subsistence and sport bag and possession limits June 27.

Bristol Bay fishermen are experiencing strong runs, with a total run estimated at 14.1 million through June 30.

As of June 27, 200,000 sockeyes has passed the Naknek tower, and 150,000 sockeyes had reached the Kvichak River.

According to a June 27 ADFG announcement, 219,00 fish were caught in Egegik June 25, for a cumulative count of about 2.1 million fish through June 26.

The last likely subsistence opening for that district was June 27.

In the Ugashik, the June 25 catch was 170,000, for a cumulative catch of 1.5 million fish.

On the west side, salmon are continuing to return. Through June 27, escapement on the Wood River was 698,000 sockeye, and on the Nushagak River it was 626,000 sockeye, with a king escapement of 50,352. The commercial harvest for the Nushagak District was 329,000 sockeyes June 26, for a cumulative harvest of 1.03 million fish.

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