With Gov. Bill Walker headed to the Kenai Peninsula to calm angry commercial fishermen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game just threw fuel on the latest fish-war fire.
As of Monday, the agency says, the bag limit for sockeye salmon on the Kenai River will go from three to one fish per day, and the personal-use dipnet fishery will close.
The agency has now decided the Kenai River run is in such bad shape that it may fall short of a new, yet-again-lower, goal of 700,000 sockeye in-river. About 368,000 have made it back so far, according to the state’s fish-counting sonar.
“Sockeye salmon passage by the sonar at river mile 19 have been behind this season, but other indicators suggested perhaps a late run timing,” Cook Inlet sport fish management coordinator Matt Miller said in a prepared statement.
The Commercial Fisheries Division gambled on the Kenai run being late and allowed commercial fishing to go on steadily in the early season despite indications of problems for sockeye stocks in the Copper River, on Kodiak Island, and at Chignik.
Almost 665,000 sockeye have been caught in the Cook Inlet commercial gillnet fisheries to date. Fisheries managers let commercial fishermen fish regular periods unrestrained from late June up until Tuesday in the belief the fish were coming back as normal.
The commercial harvest peaked at 156,000 during the July 12 opening. Harvests fell steadily after that although former Fish Board member Roland Maw appeared to have a very good day.
Fishing was so reported to be so bad Tuesday that many driftnet fishermen were heading back to port before the period ended. The drift fleet catch for the day ended up being almost as many coho (silver salmon) as sockeye, something that is not supposed to happen when the sockeye run is peaking.
Or is supposed to be peaking.