Strong Upper Cook Inlet sockeye run expected in 2016

Sockeye on ice. (Credit Mike Mason/KDLG)
Sockeye on ice. (Credit Mike Mason/KDLG)

Managers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are expecting a bigger year in 2016 than 2015 for parts of Upper Cook Inlet. Area commercial fisheries manager Pat Shields says sockeye runs on the Kenai river will be up slightly, while the Kasilof run is expected to be down just a tick.

“The overall run is a little above average, 7.1 million (sockeye), Kenai will be above average, not significantly above, but above average and Kasilof a little bit below average,” Shields said.

That all means a commercial harvest somewhere in the neighborhood north of 4 million sockeye for Upper Cook Inlet, which is significantly higher than the 20-year average. Shields says early projections look like commercial fisherman will be able to take advantage of the strong runs more than in years past, as the king salmon run is expected to be up slightly, as well.

“The sockeye component of next year’s forecast, with Kenai expected to come in at about 4.7 million sockeye, means that could put the east side set net fishery into the tier of management that allows for a lot of hours, as many as 84 hours per week beyond their two 12-hour regular periods,” Shields said. “So it would be a significant change in the number of hours they’ve fished, especially compared to recent times.”

Of course, that’s dependent on the strength of the king salmon return to the Kenai.

“I expect that forecast will be increased from the last few years, not a lot more than the last few years, but it’s going to be up,” Shields said. “And there’s a good chance that we will start both the Kenai River sport fishery that starts on July 1st and the set net fishery that comes into play on July 8th, there’s a very good chance they will both start out with a ‘normal’ fishery, meaning bait in the sport fishery and the full set of hours in the setnet fishery, and then we’ll very closely monitor the king salmon run.”

Shields says the king salmon forecast is due out some time in January. It could be the second straight year for an increase in the late Kenai king run.