On Saturday July 23, sockeye counts at the Kenai sockeye sonar eked over 50,000 (52,410) for just the second time this year as we pass the traditional midway point in the run. This followed the 36-hour commercial fishery closure window on Friday and a commercial rest day the Wednesday before. An influx of fish late Friday and Saturday was much welcomed by in-river personal use and sport fishers.
Counts fell off again to 14,000 on Sunday and 22,000 on Monday as commercial fishing resumed along the beaches on Saturday. Despite a big sockeye run forecast, in-river fisheries for sockeye have been spotty at best, as commercial fisheries have harvested 2 million Sockeye through Monday’s regular commercial fishing periods. With the resumption of normal commercial fishing patterns following several years of limitations for poor king runs, this year’s up and down in-river fishery is a reminder of what a commercial fishing priority for sockeye looks like.
These days it takes about 50,000 or so Kenai sockeye per day to produce good fishing with dipnets in the personal use fishery or rod and reel in the sport fishery. Smaller counts can provide decent fishing in pulses if you are in the right place at the right time but also produce a lot of slow fishing in between. For many years, a sonar count more than about 35,000 was considered good for in-river fisheries. However, in 2011 the Kenai sockeye sonar retooled because the historical Bendix machine was chronically undercounting. The changeover and recalibration to the newer Didson increased numbers by 42 percent. So a 50,000 count now is just 35,000 with the old sonar that a lot of people that have been around awhile got used to.
As we move past the normal two-thirds point in the Kenai sockeye run, we seem to be at least several hundred thousand sockeye short of the forecast return of 4.7 million Kenai sockeye. Sockeye harvests in the commercial fisheries and in-river runs have both flagged this week. Unless the run is very late, we will fall well short of the forecast. ADFG is looking at the indicators and standing pat on the forecast. Late runs have been seen in the last two years, so that is yet a possibility. We will take the under on the 4.7 million but when the run is late they move very quickly through the inlet. The commercial fishery cannot catch them all so a large late run would provide excellent opportunities for in-river anglers for sockeye. There is no indication that ADFG would consider extending the Kenai dipnet fishery past July 31. The Kasilof dipnet fishery closes on Friday, August 5.
Aggressive commercial fisheries and a drop off in fish movement has brought both the Kenai and Kasilof sockeye counts back in line with the goals in both the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. With the run uncertainty and the slowing counts, we might expect to see some more commercial fishing windows over the next week.
Kenai kings continue to look much improved from recent years although projections are falling off with modest counts over the last week. The normal 50 percent point of the run is July 25. As we approach that point, run projections are falling off but we remain on track for a sonar count between 25,000 and 30,000 this year. The Kenai king season for anglers closes on Sunday, July 31.