Drift fleet fishing area expanded

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the final run of sockeye on the Kenai River is expected to exceed 4.6 million fish, triggering changes in the way the drift fleet is fished for the last part of the season. 

Normally, when the run exceeds what Fish and Game biologists believe to be needed for optimum escapement, the drift fleet can fish inlet-, or district-wide. However, Pat Shields, area management biologist in the commercial division, said managers wanted to provide some protection for coho and sockeye headed north.

Commercial management now increases the in-river goal on the Kenai River to 1.1 million to 1.35 million sockeye according to the central district drift gillnet fishery management plan. 

Shields said Fish and Game wanted drifters to fish in the newly opened Area 2, which opens up an area just east of Kalgin Island and will bring the fleet closer to the mouth of the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. That area is where the department believes the bulk of the late run sockeye are, Shields said.

A test boat which runs from the Kasilof north of the Kalgin Island to the west side of the inlet has been seeing more fish while the southern test boat has seen its catch going down, Shields said.

Area 2 was not opened last year when the projected run triggered changes in the management plan. Rather, drifters were fished district-wide. 

However, Shields said there were concerns with northern-bound stocks that his division had to consider when determining where the fleet should go this year.

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