Biologists predict an average sockeye year for Cook Inlet

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2007

KENAI - State biologists predict both commercial fishermen and anglers seeking Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon next year will have good years.

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The harvest should only be 200,000 fish below the 20-year average in four of the major Cook Inlet rivers, including the Kenai. The sockeye salmon forecast for the Kasilof River is higher than average.

"The harvest should be close to the 20-year average," said Mark Willette, Soldotna Fish and Game commercial fisheries biologist.

According to the 2008 forecast, 5.6 million sockeye salmon are projected to return. Biologists are projecting a harvest of 3.9 million sockeye salmon for all user groups, which is 200,000 fish below the 20-year average.

Approximately 3.1 million fish are expected to return to the Kenai River, 16 percent less than the 20-year average.

The Kasilof River is projected to see 1.3 million fish return, a 33 percent increase from the 20-year average.

Biologists use models based on spawning abundance, sibling abundance, fall fry abundance and smolt abundance for each year. Returning sockeye salmon are often 4, 5 or 6 years old. The youngest group makes up 95 to 98 percent of the salmon run.

The 4-year-old fish tend to be smaller but Willette said that does not affect the price buyers pay.

Willette said the forecast would have an effect primarily on management of the sockeye salmon fishery in the Kenai River. The escapement goal for the river is based on a sliding scale, and with a forecast of 3 million fish, the in-river goal for the Kenai River will be between 750,000 and 950,000 sockeye.

Harvest forecasts for the Susitna River, at 344,000, is 24 percent less than the 20-year average of 453,000.

With a higher-than-average forecast of 1.3 million fish, Willette projects a higher number of users on the Kasilof next year.

The Fish and Game may open the Kasilof fishery early because of the high projection. On rivers with a weaker projected run such as the Susitna, with only 344,000 sockeye salmon, Willette said, the department may be more conservative with its management.

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