Dipnetters who descended on the Kasilof River between 10 p.m. Tuesday and 11 p.m. Wednesday, more than likely returned home sulking.
Starting at 10 p.m. Tuesday, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game emergency order opened the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area to commercial fishing, creating what is referred to as a terminal fishery.
Although the fishery’s name may suggest otherwise, not all sockeye are prevented from passing into the Kasilof River during a terminal fishery in the special harvest area.
“But it certainly slows dipping,” said Jeff Fox, a Fish and Game management biologist.
The Kasilof River Special Harvest Area stretches from approximately one mile south of the mouth of the Kasilof River to one mile north of the mouth of the Kasilof River and was established as a terminal fishery in 1985, to be used when too many sockeye were passing upstream.
When sockeye runs are projected to remain within escapement goals, however, commercial fishermen fish in traditional fishing areas outside the special harvest area.
By regulating commercial fishing in traditional fishing areas as needed, Fish and Game has managed the fishery without using the terminal fishery for nearly two decades.
But in 2004, the Kasilof fishery management plan changed to prohibit commercial fishermen from fishing in traditional fishing areas for at least one continuous 48-hour window every week, reducing Fish and Game’s ability to manage the fishery using traditional fishing areas and generating a greater need for the terminal fishery, Fox said.
In traditional commercial fishing areas, Fish and Game can allow commercial fishermen to fish up to 72 hours per week. Until a mandated window was established, Fish and Game could schedule commercial fishing openings according to how many fish there were.
The mandated 48-hour window, however, has reduced Fish and Game’s ability to respond to fluctuations in fish runs and has made already hard to hit escapement goals even more elusive.
“We’ve had chronic problems with escapement,” Fox said.
For eight of the last nine years, the Kasilof River sockeye fishery has exceeded escapement goals, he said.
“And sometimes we’ve doubled that upper end of the goal,” he said.
This year’s escapement goal is 150,000 to 300,000 fish, and Fish and Game projects this year’s escapement could exceed the upper escapement goal once again.
While the sockeye run has only just begun, nearly 60,000 sockeye are already in escapement, and starting July 9, Fish and Game’s ability to curb the number of fish that pass into the river will be even more limited than it is now, Fox said.
Starting July 9, the number of hours commercial fishermen can fish in the traditional fishing areas will be reduced by 24 hours.
Although commercial fishing in the special harvest area, near the mouth of the river, might sound ideal when compared to the traditional areas, commercial fishermen do not necessarily jump at the chance to fish it.
The underwater geography of the area and gear limitations the special harvest area make the terminal fishery less than ideal and not very productive, Fox said.
In the special harvest area, commercial fishermen are only allowed to use a third of the gear they are allowed to use in traditional fishing areas, and Fox estimated that approximately 30 to 40 fishermen participate when a terminal fishery is opened.
During the last fishing period in traditional fishing areas on the other hand, 221 commercial fishermen fished.
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