Swimming in sockeyes

Commercial catch up to 1.6 million salmon with more coming

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2005

Commercial fishers have harvested 1.6 million sockeye salmon so far this summer in Upper Cook Inlet — with more on the way.

"The indications are there are plenty of fish," Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries area biologist Jeff Fox said Friday.

According to Fish and Game, Thursday's regular fishing was the second biggest day of the season, with drift- and setnet fishers taking just under 200,000 sockeye. The season's busiest day so far was July 11, when 358,986 fish were hauled in.

The preseason forecast for the inlet called for a total harvest of around 4 million fish in the upper inlet.

The historical peak of the run is typically around mid-July. Last year, commercial fishers hauled in 4.9 million sockeye — the fifth highest take on record.

An average year nets between 2.5 and 3 million sockeye for Upper Cool Inlet fishers.

The good news isn't limited to numbers. According to information compiled by the McDowell Group, UCI sockeye are fetching between 85 and 95 cents per pound. Those prices are the highest since 1999, when reds were selling for $1.34 a pound.

The value of the Upper Cook Inlet fishery has increased in each of the past three years since reaching its lowest point in 2001, when the entire value of the catch — including pinks, sockeye, coho, chum and chinook salmon — was less than $9 million. By comparison, last year's catch was valued at just under $22 million.

Typically, around 90 percent of the UCI fishery's value comes from the sockeye harvest.

Not all fish returning to Cook Inlet are getting hauled in by commercial nets. In fact, the Kasilof River is again nearing the upper end of its escapement goal this year with plenty of salmon yet to swim into the river.

As of Friday, 231,696 reds had gotten up the Kasilof — a river that's managed for a goal of between 150,000 and 250,000 fish.

The Kasilof has passed the upper end of the escapement goal in four of the past five years. Last year's escapement was a record, with 577,581 swimming up the Kasilof.

The fish are getting through despite Fish and Game's best efforts, which included opening a terminal fishery at the mouth of the river and liberalizing personal use and sport fishing rules.

However, because of mandatory commercial closures that must be followed, Fox said his hands are somewhat tied and that the Kasilof will pass the upper end of the goal again this year.

"With the management plans, we're kind of limited on how much effort we can exert," Fox said.

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