The first commercial fishing announcement of the season in the Upper Cook Inlet restricts commercial king salmon fishing in the Northern part of the inlet.
The setnet fishery, which has had an average of 53 permit holders during the last ten years, is comprised of fishermen on both the East and West sides of the Cook Inlet who will see their first fishing period closed in response to king salmon conservation concerns.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Pat Shields said six systems in the Northern District of the Upper Cook Inlet were considered stocks of concern and despite similar restrictions to the commercial king fishery in 2012 — including closures in the early commercial sockeye salmon fishery — a number of systems failed to meet king salmon goals.
Although harvest of early run king salmon in the commercial fishery has been low when compared to the rest of Cook Inlet — setnetters caught an average of 1,540 fish during the last four fishing seasons according to Fish and Game data — Shields said the fishery is still valuable.
“It’s the first king salmon fishery, our first commercial salmon fishery and the price that they get per pound for those king salmon is anywhere from two times to four times what they’ll get later on,” Shields said. “They can get $5 to $7 a pound ... it’s not a large number of people that participate but it’s an early season, important fishery for those folks and it’s unfortunate that we have to restrict, but it’s happening to everybody. It’s happening to the sport fishery also.”
The emergency order also closed a section of the Northern District known as the General Subdistrict, located from a point about three miles south of Tyonek up to the Susitna River.
Shields said the area was closed per the Northern District King Salmon Management Plan which specifies that if the Chuitna River is closed to sportfishing, the commercial king salmon fishery must close as well.
Setnet fishermen in the rest of the Northern District who participate in the fishery use one net and will be restricted from their normal 12-hour fishing periods — each Monday in June — to six-hour periods.
Shields said commercial fishermen were restricted similarly in 2012 during the early king salmon run.
Most commercial setnet fishermen in the Upper Cook Inlet are scheduled to begin fishing June 27, except for those in the Kenai and East Forelands section who are scheduled to begin fishing July 8, however managers in both the commercial and sportfishing divisions of Fish and Game have said they will manage conservatively during the upcoming fishing season to protect king salmon.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com.