Photo by M. Scott Moon Casey Hanebuth and his brother Derek process red salmon Wednesday afternoon on the line at Kenai River Seafoods in Kenai. Processors are busy working large numbers of fish that started showing Monday in Cook Inlet.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Onya Schouweiler began processing red salmon deliveries an hour after she and her brother-in-law were in a car accident Monday afternoon and didn't finish until 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"We were swamped," Schouweiler said. "We were running out of totes, we had mad fishermen."
Fishing went well for Cook Inlet commercial driftnet fishermen, who brought in nearly 1,208 sockeye salmon per boat Monday, but for the dock workers at Kenai Landing, things have been hectic. Schouweiler, a dock manager for R&J Seafoods and Kenai River Seafoods, said workers had to transport ice after their ice machine broke, and weigh fish totes, huge ice chests capable of carrying 600 pounds of salmon, on a warehouse scale after their dock scale broke.
"We ordered several things of ice and (made) totes by hand," Schouweiler said. "We used well over 100 totes of fish."
Schouweiler and the dock workers are gearing up for today's big delivery, which promises to be another big day for driftnetters. If the numbers of fish caught on Monday didn't break records, officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are predicting today's will.
"They didn't break the record, but they came pretty close," said Jeff Fox, commercial fish manager for Fish and Game. "That's the second highest ever. They may break it (today)."
Fox said the record number of fish caught by commercial driftnetters in Cook Inlet is 1,200 sockeyes per boat. The last time commercial drift netters hauled in a record-breaking catch was in 1988, when the number was 1,240 per boat.
Sean Crosby, one of five co-owners of Kenai River Seafoods, said Monday's catch was the biggest his plant's seen in its two years of operation. As of Wednesday afternoon, his employees were processing the last 5,000 pounds of Monday's catch, and will be ready when Thursday's comes in.
"We processed close to 100,000 pounds and we have about 12 guys," Crosby said. He pointed to the assembly line where employees brought the fish in the plant, decapitated, gutted and trimmed them for shipping to points all over the world. "We're storing ice up right now for (Thursday's) opener so the fish can be chilled until they're ready to be processed," he said.
A lot of sockeyes are in Cook Inlet now, Fox said, but don't look to be moving into the rivers with any speed. Driftnetters are restricted to points south of Kalgin Island while the Department of Fish and Game monitors the number of sockeyes making it into the Susitna River.
"The Susitna River is the primary concern. It's usually the weakest run in the inlet," Fox said, adding that the sockeye escapement goal for the Susitna River is between 90,000 and 160,000 fish. "Our concern is to see fish swim to rivers before we catch too many."
A good driftnet season doesn't mean there are more fish than usual in Cook Inlet. Fox said both driftnetters and setnetters have come away with a significant catch on average runs, but wouldn't make any predictions as to what kind of a sockeye run this year's is.
"The drifters typically do their best fishing between (July) 15th to about the 25th and this last period was restricted to half the inlet," Fox said. "So that's a really good catch at half the inlet."
As of Wednesday afternoon, Fox said fish are trickling into the Kasilof, Kenai and Susitna rivers and predicts a larger number of fish coming into the Kenai within the next few days.
"Whenever fish move into the Kenai they'll also move into the Susitna," Fox said. "This is our fourth period of drifting restricted to the south, hopefully (the Kenai run) will occur within the next day or two."
Meanwhile at Kenai River Seafoods, Crosby's employees process as much as they can to clear the plant for Thursday's catch while Schouweiler ordered ice and is getting the totes ready by hand. Despite still being sore from whiplash, Josh Fine, Schouweiler's brother-in-law and assistant manager, is taking things in stride.
"It was cool," Fine said. "We got to watch the sunrise and sunset twice."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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