Saturday evening update:
Drift gillnet boats in upper Cook Inlet will get another opportunity to fish on Sunday (July 13), fishery managers announced Saturday evening. The opening in the Kasilof and Kenai sections will run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Setnetters — along with driftnetters — will get their chance Saturday to target Cook Inlet sockeyes, state fishery managers announced Saturday morning.
Both openings coincide with the first weekend of the hugely popular dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River.
Setnetters this year are only being allowed to fish under emergency openings in an effort to protect king salmon. Saturday’s announcement came at 8 a.m. for an opening that started at 10 a.m. and goes until 7 p.m. The setnetters are being limited to the Kasilof section on the east side of upper Cook Inlet.
According to the announcement, the number of sockeyes heading into the Kasilof River may top goals for spawning. Through Friday, more than 227,000 had passed by the Kasilof sonar count. The optimal number is a range between 160,000 to 390,000.
On the Kenai River through Friday, more than 183,000 reds had passed the sonar station, which is 19 miles from the mouth. The goal for the Kenai is 1 million to 1.2 million reds reaching spawning grounds. Managers say they expect sockeye numbers will top the goal.
But the number of late-run king salmon remains a concern, biologists indicated in the Saturday morning announcement. Managers estimate that 196 kings are passing through a day, with 2,122 total late-run kings entering the river as of Thursday.
“If low numbers of king salmon continue to enter the Kenai River through the weekend, then additional restrictive in-season management actions could occur as soon as early
next week,” managers said. Already, dipnetters must release any kings. Sport fishermen aren’t allowed to use bait and can only use single hooks.
Before the fishing season began, managers forecasted fewer than 20,000 late-run Kenai kings. The average size of the late run between 1986 and 2013 has been 57,000 fish.
A separate driftnet opening announced Friday night is running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Driftnet fishing is being allowed in areas on the east side of the Inlet a few miles offshore from the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.
Commercial fishing can have an impact on the success of Kenai dipnetters and sport fishermen, but how big an impact depends on the number of fish pushing toward the river's mouth. If a huge pulse of fish moves in, setnetters, driftboat fishermen, dipnetters and sport fishermen all may end up with plenty of salmon.
A fish count in a test fishery that helps biologists estimate the run timing spiked up on Friday. The adjusted count for the North Kalgin Island test area hit 121, the highest this year. Those fish are still in the inlet, but are close to the river mouths.
Pat Shields, the Soldotna-based area fisheries management biologist, didn't return calls Friday or respond to an email Saturday to discuss the openings. He referred questions to two other managers late Friday. Efforts to reach them were unsuccessful.
State Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, on Friday argued against a setnet opening this weekend, to let more salmon in rivers for dipnetters and sport fishermen.
But when the run is at its peak, dipnetters should have success even if setnets or driftnets are out as long as they commit to fishing a full 12-hour tide cycle, said Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna and a commercial fisherman for 25 years. He went out for Friday's commercial opening in his vessel, Inlet Raider.
The peak run window usually begins around July 15, he said.