Commercial driftnet fishermen -- but not setnet fishermen -- will get a chance Saturday to target Cook Inlet sockeyes, state fishery managers announced Friday evening.
The opening -- which coincides with the first weekend for the hugely popular Kenai dipnet fishery -- will begin at 7 a.m. and go through 7 p.m. Saturday, according to the announcement published at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Fishing will be 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.
Still, setnets close to shore can choke off the fish before they get to the river more quickly than driftnets, Pat Shields, the Soldotna-based area fisheries management biologist, said Thursday.
State Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, on Friday urged fish managers not to allow a setnet opening this weekend. He suggested decision-making on commercial fishing openings may need to be moved to Anchorage or the Mat-Su.
"Admittedly I am not a fish biologist but it just makes common sense that the state should not decimate the red return during the very brief time that is open to dipnet fishers," Dunleavy said in a written statement.
Shields didn't return calls Friday to discuss the opening or why driftnet fishermen were getting a chance when setnet fishermen were not. He referred questions to two other managers late Friday.
But down on the Kenai Peninsula, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said, "When you have a flood of fish, you can't stop them."
Dipnetters tend to blame the commercial fleet or setnetters when other factors may be more to blame for a poor catch, said Micciche, a commercial fisherman for 25 years who went out for Friday's commercial opening in his vessel, Inlet Raider.
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, Micciche said. The peak run window usually begins around July 15, he said.
Through Thursday, more than 171,000 sockeyes had entered the Kenai River and passed the sonar station 19 miles from the mouth.