Fishery Window Should Produce Excellent Kenai Sockeye Fishing this Weekend
KRSA Inseason Update 7/24/15
The Kenai sockeye run is late but finally began to show this week with very good catches in the offshore test fishery and sonar counts in the river.
Sockeye runs got off to a strong early start in the Kasilof and have held steady.
The late Kenai sockeye run has produced very poor catches in both the Central District drift net fishery and the Kenai section of the east side set net fishery.
The Kasilof section of the set net fishery has fared better with another good Kasilof sockeye run.
The drift gillnet fishery has caught only 400,000 sockeye to date through the normal mid-point of the Kenai run timing after averaging 2.3 million per year over the last four years. The impact of low catches is being compounded by small sockeye size and a substantial drop off in price from last year.
Some fishers will blame the management plans for poor catches but the reality is that there have simply not been enough fish in the inlet to produce desired catch levels.
With this year’s run patterns, we should also note that drift gillnet fishery harvest rates of northern-bound sockeye and coho can be expected to be less than average, maybe substantially so.
The east side set net fishery has harvested about 750,000 sockeye through Thursday July 23. Over 80% of this catch has come from the Kasilof beaches or the Kasilof special harvest area.
Substantial numbers of kings have been taken in the setnet fishery in area-wide openers – 400 to 700 per day.
Through Thursday, the Department reports that commercial harvest of Kenai coho has outnumbered sport harvest by two to one (4,139 versus 2,065) despite a sport fish priority for kings in the management plans.
The Kenai sockeye run will fall well below the preseason forecast of 3.6 million unless the run is very late.
At the normal mid-point in the run, sonar counts of about 500,000 and a similar number in the commercial harvest account for only 1 million fish. Even assuming a generous personal use and sport harvest below the sonar, we seem to be missing a million or more Kenai sockeye.
Large numbers of sockeye seem to be moving through the inlet and it has been a weird sockeye year in other areas so things can still change in a hurry.
If large pulses of sockeye do not hit the river this weekend after the fishery closure window on Friday, then a run downgrade may well be in order.
Note that this year’s return was produced by escapements within the goal range so “overescapement” is not to blame.
The following graph shows that sonar counts of Kenai sockeye continue to track behind schedule for meeting the in-river goal range of 1.0 to 1.2 million for a run size of 2.3 to 4.6 Kenai sockeye. We project just 900,000 at the sonar at the current pace with average run timing.
We can expect to see increased fishing effort in the east side set net fishery now that the Kenai kings constraints have been relaxed with an upgrade in that run.
Because we are still behind schedule on Kenai sockeye escapements, we can also expect to see the Kenai set net fishery managed very carefully over the next week in an attempt to balance the risk of underescaping the goal with the risk of missing a large push of sockeye moving rapidly through the inlet.
If the missing Kenai fish do materialize in large numbers over the next week, we can expect substantial commercial set net fisheries into August as the 1% rule for closure is not likely to come into play this year in the Kenai area due to poor early season catches. We may see the 1% rule for the Kasilof beach.
In the event that large numbers of Kenai sockeye show up and move quickly through the inlet and enter the river, we will be looking for management of escapement within the optimum escapement goal range rather than the inriver goal range in order to ensure that excessive numbers of kings and coho are not intercepted by the commercial fishery.
Kasilof escapement is projecting around 460,000 with average run timing which is well above the OEG of 160 to 390 thousand for the third year in a row.
Commercial fishing has occurred 13 straight days on the Kasilof beach or special harvest area as managers have implemented a large number of openings outside the direction of the management plan based on commissioner authority to manage for escapement goals.
Little regard has been apparent for the impact of this fishery on escapement of Kasilof kings whose abundance is not assessed and for which no escapement goals have been established.
There can be little doubt that Kasilof late run kings are being overfished relative to maximum yield or production under the current fishing strategy.
In contrast, risks of large Kasilof sockeye escapements to future production are low as large escapements have continued to produce large returns in recent years as is demonstrated yet again by this year’s good return.