Set-netters get emergency opener

Commercial sockeye fishing in upper Cook Inlet will be decided on a day-by-day basis from here until the end of the season.

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Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game

“We’re going to provide the set-net fishery with a 12-hour opening and then we’ll reassess after we get the data in from that period, the catches in from that period. And we’ll reassess where we’re at with escapement of sockeye, and we’ll also take a look at king salmon. And so it will be kind of a day-by-day assessment to see if there will be any additional fishing time provided,” said Pat Shields, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division in Soldotna.

According to an emergency order released Monday, east-side set-netters are allowed to fish Aug. 9, and maybe a couple more days before the season ends Aug. 15. Drift gill-netters also have a 12-hour opening Tuesday.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game initially forecast a strong run of sockeye returning to Cook Inlet this year, but that doesn’t seem to be materializing. The run is now projected to be 1 million less sockeye into the Kenai River, and nearly 2 million less in the inlet overall.

But managers still expect the Kenai River to make the in-river sockeye goal range set by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, of 1.1 million to 1.35 million fish. As of Monday, the estimate was already at 1.2 million fish and still climbing. That’s why Fish and Game is opening the set-net fishery, to keep from exceeding the upper end of the goal.

“What we decided today, there would be no more than three periods at most. But, again, it may only be one period, it could be two periods, or it could be up to three additional periods, with an assessment done after each fishing period,” Shields said.

Shields said it’s been a tough year for most commercial fishermen. The drift fleet didn’t find fish in big concentrations, like they’d expect in a typical year. Set-netters north of the Kenai River have had at least an average year, but those south of the river haven’t. Part of the reason for the opening is to boost those numbers.

“We don’t expect there will be big catches right now. It’s in August. A fair amount of people have left the fishery. But we’re going to provide some opportunity and try to keep the passage as close to the 1.35 as possible,” Shields said.

Fish and Game provides a daily recording announcing fishing openings. It’s in the Commercial Fisheries section of its website, on the Upper Cook Inlet Management Page.