A Picture Starts to Form

Good day all. This is the week where reams of in-season data starts to bring together a picture of what the 2015 fishery for late-run Kenai River king salmon, late-run Kenai River sockeye salmon and Kasilof River sockeye salmon will end up looking like in the record books. Yet it is still only somewhere in the 20 percent range of the Kenai king & sockeye runs and around 40 percent in the Kasilof sockeye run, so what we think we see right now could still be very wrong.

The information that we are watching includes but is not limited to the sonar data from river mile (RM) 14 in the Kenai which gives us an estimate of the number of king salmon greater than 30 inches that have passed that point in the river. Remember that until this year the sonar used to estimate king passage was located downstream at RM 8.6. The new upstream site is better for a lot of reasons but the timing of passage of proportions of the run (25 percent, 50 percent, etc.) could be as much as three to five days later than what occurred at the downstream site which might force a management call earlier in the run as observed at river mile 14 but actually later in date.

We went into this season with a projection of total run for late-run Kenai kings of just over 20,000 (remember the escapement goal range is 15,000-30,000). Anytime the in-river run is projected to be less than 22,500 the fisheries share paired restrictions. Currently sport fishing (SF) is restricted to no bait and the set nets are restricted to no more than 36 hours with retention prohibited in the personal use fishery (PU), according to the Late-run Kenai King Plan. So far this season we are seeing significantly more fish than anticipated as measured by the sonar. Through July 13 the estimate for late-run kings is 5,438 compared to 2,025 in 2014 and 2,345 in 2013.

We are early in the run, especially at the new upstream site but using the assumption of normal run timing the 5,438 we have now projects out to an in-river run of about 38,000. At this point about 2,800 of the 5,438 are estimated to be fish greater than 30 inches.

I anticipate that these estimates will decrease somewhat over time but I do not see further restrictions or closures during the remainder of the 2015 season.

In fact, I now believe that ADF&G will be forced by the management plan to “liberalize” the fishery early next week. “Liberalize” for the sport fishery will mean allowing the use of bait, but they will not reopen the middle river. “Liberalize” for the set net fishery will mean allowing them to go back to fishing in accordance with the Kenai River Late-Run Sockeye Plan which allows for regular Monday and Thursday periods, more Emergency Opener (EO) time and a restoration of the mid-week window closure. The Department must project that after all “liberalization” the escapement of late-run kings in Kenai will be greater than 15,000 and I do not anticipate that realized escapement will fall below 17-18,000 no matter what action is taken.

The in-season status of Kenai sockeye is not so easy to describe and the data collected this week will provide a much better picture.

What we have so far is better than average early escapement (not big days, however, so SF and PU have been slow), weak commercial catches in both the northern beaches and the drift fishery (however, Monday’s drift catch per delivery picked up from a low 60 over the weekend to 172) and low index counts from the Offshore Test Fishery at the latitude of Anchor Point. The run is either somewhat late, somewhat weak or both, we do not know at this point and the Department is not going to make a call on this until early next week. If the run is just late and we see a liberalization in the king plan we will see lots of EO time into early August. If the run is weaker than anticipated then we’ll see more than the 36 hours allowed under the king plan but probably only slightly.

The estimated ratio of late-run Kenai kings harvested by the sport fishery to those harvested by the set net fishery is about 1/5 through last weekend. While late-run Kenai kings look to be doing better than the preseason forecast, the status of late-run Kasilof kings still is a blind spot for management, as there is still no in-season escapement monitoring of this important stock of fish.

Finally, about one-half of the escapement so far is estimated to be king salmon less than 30 inches in length so there is a concern over the quality of the escapement. However, tomorrow is Friday and nothing is certain.

Kevin Delaney, ADF&G Director of Sport Fish, Retired