While most drift fishermen are grumbling about the lack of quality fishing time in the Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery, the contentious new management plan hammered out last winter by the Board of Fisheries did seem to accomplish what the crafters of the plan, sport fishing interests in the Mat-Su Valley, intended.

Most Valley streams reached their sockeye escapement goals, and while the drift fleet was kept out of productive waters, coho salmon flooded into the area.

For example, the Sustainable Escapement Goal, or SEG, for Fish Creek is 1,200 to 4,400 coho. From July 11 through Sept. 1, the weir count at Fish Creek enumerated 10,283 coho.

While not quite as dramatic an over-escapement, the Little Susitna River, with an SEG of 10,100 to 17,700 coho, had a final escapement estimate of 24,200 fish.

Overall, the sockeye runs came in under pre-season projections, but partly due to the changes in the management plan, the two major rivers in Cook Inlet exceeded escapement goals.

The Kenai River run came in 17 percent under forecast, but exceeded the upper end of the escapement goal, 1.2 million sockeye, by nearly 22 percent, with a final tally of 1.53 million fish.

The Kasilof River came in 4 percent over projection, 1.1 million versus 1.06 million sockeye, but exceeded the upper end of the escapement goal, 340,000 fish, by 23 percent, with a final count of 439,997 sockeye.

That comes to about $6 million in lost revenue for the drift fleet fishery in harvestable surplus allowed to swim by, revenue sorely missed in a year when the per-boat average for the drift fleet was only 18,000 pounds of sockeye.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Pat Shields said that the word “challenging” best describes trying to manage the fishery under the new plan. He noted that this is the first year under the new plan, and ADFG is still learning how to most effectively use the variables it contains.

The setnet fleet had even harsher restrictions than the drift fleet placed on them, saddled with what is commonly known as “paired restrictions,” where constraints placed on the in-river sport fishery for late-run Kenai River king salmon, such as no bait or catch-and-release fishing, limited hours in the commercial sockeye fishery.

With a projected run of 19,000 late-run king salmon, the in-river fishery started with a no-bait rule, which  meant that there were no set, regular fishing periods for the setnetters, and they were restricted to no more than 36 hours of fishing time per week.

Use of those hours were intended to maximize sockeye harvest and minimize taking of king salmon, according to Shields.

“The challenge was, how do you maximize harvest off of 60 miles of beach?” he said. “We would determine that there was a localized build-up, on a ...ten mile area of beach, but it wasn’t over the entire beach.”

He said staff would try to figure out if that was an appropriate time to use the available hours.

“That was all brand-new,” he said. “We’ve never had that here. We’ve always used a Monday and Thursday (opening schedule) as one of our tools to gauge what the abundance (of sockeye) was on the east side beaches.”

The setnetters, particularly north of the Blanchard Line between the Kasilof and Kenai Rivers, did not even get the allowed 36 hours of fishing time during the no-bait in-river restriction.

During the management week of July 6 through 12, the entire Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishery (Kenai, Kasilof, and East Foreland sections) was open only one day for a 12-hour fishing period on July 9.Set gillnetting in the Kasilof Section was allowed on July 7 and July 12 for 9 hours each day, with the July 12 fishing period restricted to within one-half mile of shore in an attempt to harvest Kasilof River sockeye salmon, while reducing the harvest of Kenai River king salmon. 

Once in-river went to catch-and-release on July 19, setnetters were only allowed 12 hours per week

That proved even more aggravating for the setnetters watching the drift fleet fish nearly every day,

Shields said, in spite of the drift fleet’s dismal catches.

Drifters fished 23 days in July, 20 of them after July 9.

“For a setnetter who’s sitting on the beach, and there’s (emergency opening after emergency opening), day after day after day, they say, ‘well there was a lot of opportunity provided,’ and that’s true. It’s just that the catch rates weren’t very good this year considering the number of days that the drifters were allowed to fish.”

Shields said that fishing in the near-shore corridor never produced big catches, and even in Area 1, south of Kalgin Island, the biggest per-boat sockeye catch for the season was only 537 fish, on July 17, which is less than half what would be expected for a big day for the drift fleet. 

“It was a semi-frustrating year for the drift fleet. Although there was lots of time provided, they never found concentrations of fish,” he said.

 

The Bering Sea opilio crab quota jumped 26 percent, to 68 million pounds, an expected rise after preliminary data showed strong numbers of adult male crab and solid recruits.

The Bairdi tanner crab quota nearly doubled, with a total of 15.1 million pounds available between the eastern and western districts, with the dividing line at 166 degrees longitude. 

It is the largest quota for that fishery in 20 years.

The Bairdi fishery was once an important money-maker for the Bering Sea fleet, with about 20 million pounds being caught every year. It closed in 1996, and re-opened from 2006 to 2009 with quotas from 1.4 to 4 million pounds. 

It closed again in 2010, re-opening in 2012 with a 1.4 million pound quota. 

A change in regulation that lowered the size of harvestable males led to the 7.8 million pound quota last season.

Both fisheries opened yesterday, but the industry standard is to begin fishing in January.

 

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

With a projected run of 19,000 late-run king salmon, the in-river fishery started with a no-bait rule, which  means there were no set, regular fishing periods for the setnetters, and they were restricted to no more than 36 hours of fishing time per week.

Use of those hours were intended to maximize sockeye harvest and minimize taking of king salmon, according to Shields.

“The challenge was, how do you maximize harvest off of 60 miles of beach?” he said. “We would determine that there was a localized build-up, on a .. ten-mile area of beach, but it wasn’t over the entire beach.”

He said staff would try to figure out if that was an appropriate time to use the available hours.

“That was all brand new,” he said. “We’ve never had that here. We’ve always used a Monday and Thursday (opening schedule) as one of our tools to gauge what the abundance (of sockeye) was on the east side beaches.”

The setnetters, particularly north of the Blanchard Line between the Kasilof and Kenai rivers, did not even get the allowed 36 hours of fishing time during the no-bait, in-river restriction.

During the management week of July 6 through 12, the entire Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishery (Kenai, Kasilof and East Foreland sections) was open only one day for a 12-hour fishing period on July 9. Set gillnetting in the Kasilof Section was allowed on July 7 and July 12 for nine hours each day, with the July 12 fishing period restricted to within one-half mile of shore in an attempt to harvest Kasilof River sockeye salmon, while reducing the harvest of Kenai River king salmon. 

Once in-river went to catch-and-release on July 19, setnetters were only allowed 12 hours per week

That proved even more aggravating for the setnetters watching the drift fleet fish nearly every day, Shields said, in spite of the drift fleet’s dismal catches.

Drifters fished 23 days in July, 20 of them after July 9.

“For a setnetter who’s sitting on the beach, and there’s (emergency opening after emergency opening), day after day after day, they say, ‘well there was a lot of opportunity provided,’ and that’s true. It’s just that the catch rates weren’t very good this year considering the number of days that the drifters were allowed to fish.”

Shields said that fishing in the near-shore corridor never produced big catches, and even in Area 1, south of Kalgin Island, the biggest per-boat sockeye catch for the season was only 537 fish, on July 17, which is less than half what would be expected for a big day for the drift fleet. 

“It was a semi-frustrating year for the drift fleet. Although there was lots of time provided, they never found concentrations of fish,” he said.

 

The Bering Sea opilio crab quota jumped 26 percent, to 68 million pounds, an expected rise after preliminary data showed strong numbers of adult male crab and solid recruits.

The Bairdi tanner crab quota nearly doubled, with a total of 15.1 million pounds available between the eastern and western districts, with the dividing line at 166 degrees longitude. 

It is the largest quota for that fishery in 20 years.

The Bairdi fishery was once an important money-maker for the Bering Sea fleet, with about 20 million pounds being caught every year. It closed in 1996, and re-opened from 2006 to 2009 with quotas from 1.4 to 4 million pounds. 

It closed again in 2010, re-opening in 2012 with a 1.4 million pound quota. 

A change in regulation that lowered the size of harvestable males led to the 7.8 million pound quota last season.

Both fisheries opened this week, but the industry standard is to begin fishing in January.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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