What are we watching, what are we seeing and what does it mean?

First off, July 10 is early in the Kenai late-run king and late-run sockeye salmon seasons to draw any firm conclusions. Things happen very quickly in these fisheries, but the historical 25% point in the king run is not until about July 14. For ADFG staff, that is about the first point in the run where they start to have a feel for what is coming. But that having been said, we do have lots to look at.

On the Kenai, the number of late-run kings estimated to have passed the sonar is ahead of the past couple of years and the number of kings over 30 inches in length is also larger. Make no mistake, this is still a small run (preseason projection of about 22k vs historical runs well up in the 50-80k range) but more is better. We are still seeing about half of the fish past the sonar in the 16-30 inch range and that calls into question the quality of the escapement. We are watching this carefully and will question a management call to liberalize, should it come to that, if the quality of the escapement is poor.

We are fishing under the Late-run king salmon management plan which pairs restrictions between the sport and the set net fisheries and prohibits retention of kings in the personal use fishery. This paired restriction strategy was supported, even suggested, by KRSA and adopted by the Board in 2014. We continue to support this approach but the set net to sport king harvest is currently running about 4 to 1 and more will have to be done to achieve the “primarily for sport and guided sport” mandate called for in the plan. More effort devoted to developing more selective gear and shallower nets still appears to be the most productive direction to proceed. 

At this point in the season the most troubling situation from my perspective is the likely approach we will see implemented for Kasilof for the remainder of the season. WE DO NOT have an escapement goal for late-run kings headed home to the Kasilof. The escapement of sockeye into Kasilof is ahead of what the department would like to see and headed for a season end total of 400,000k or so. The upper end of the OEG for Kasilof is 360k. We have already seen the commercial fleet in the terminal harvest area and we are going to see a lot more of this for the remainder of July unless king numbers for Kenai come in substantially larger than currently anticipated and set net time on the entire beach can be increased.  It is high time that the department implement a program for estimating the number of kings entering the Kasilof, establish a management objective and begin assuring that a minimum escapement is met.

As mentioned, the 25% point in the Kenai king run is early next week. I do not look for any management action to take place at that time but by then we will have a much better idea of what is happening with sockeye. So long as 15,000 king salmon spawning in the Kenai is projected then ADFG will be opening the set nets 36 hours, the Kasilof terminal a bunch and the drift according to the drift plan. The offshore test program off Anchor Point will be giving managers an early view of sockeye abundance as well.

There will be a lot more information available next week. Thanks and good fishing.

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