Commercial Fishing Season Ramping Up In Cook Inlet
In the Southern District, the Port Graham Subdistrict opened July 14 to commercial set gillnetting for the first time this season. Returns haven’t been especially high, so that fishery has been closed so far, says Glenn Hollowell, Fish and Game Finfish Area Management Biologist for the Lower Cook Inlet.
“We’ve been tracking the sockeye return to English Bay Lakes,” says Hollowell. “It’s been what I’ve called modest this year. We’ve just barely made our escapement goals with a subsistence fishery but no commercial fishery. Had we had a commercial fishery, I think it would have depressed escapement to the lakes below the level that we want to see. So, we’ve kept the commercial fishery closed and the subsistence fishery open.”
The sustainable escapement goal is 6,000 to 13,500 sockeye. As of July 11, about 6,700 fish had returned. Beginning at 6 a.m. July 14, it is open for regular 48-hour Monday and Thursday commercial fishing periods. The subsistence fishery will remain open.
Set gillnetting opened in portions of the Barabara Creek, Tutka Bay, Halibut Cove, and Seldovia Bay Subdistricts in early June. Those areas will remain open for two 48-hour fishing periods per week. Hollowell says it’s still early in the season to tell, but this harvest doesn’t seem to match up to last year’s.
“It seems like we’ve been running slightly ahead of the 10-year average,” says Hollowell. “But last year was just an amazing year. We were way ahead of the 10-year average last year and we seem to be trailing that a little bit this year.”
The 10-year average for sockeyes is about 21,000 fish. The 2013 harvest was more than 29,000. So far this season, 22,000 reds have been caught by set gillnetters in the Southern District.
The purse seine fisheries in the Tutka Bay, Halibut Cove and Humpy Creek Subdistricts and the China Poot and Neptune Bay Sections are also open.
“Typically, those are very, very slow fisheries until about now and then they start to pick up as pink salmon come back through and as we start seeing coho and sockeye salmon,” says Hollowell. “And the sockeye salmon harvest has picked up quite a bit in the purse seine fishery in the last week and a half I would say.”
As of July 3, only 373 sockeye had been caught. By July 7, that number had jumped to more than 1,300.
In the Kamishak Bay District, the Chenik Subdistrict had its first purse seine opening July 12 through 14.
“Usually they go into Chenik Lake during high tide cycles,” says Hollowell. “But, apparently, they got in during a moderate tide cycle. So, we’ve got about 6,000 fish in the lake, which is within the sustainable escapement goal of 3,500 to 14,000. So, we’re doing okay there.”
Finally, in the Outer District, there are openings in Port Dick, and the Windy Bay, Rocky Bay, and Nuka Island Subdistricts.
Hollowell says as it is still early in the season, it will still take some time to identify this year’s trends in the commercial salmon harvest throughout Lower Cook Inlet.