With about a month left in the commercial fishing season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is right where it wants to be -- at least in the Kenai River.
Approximately 330,000 sockeye salmon passed the sonar site in the Kenai as of Sunday, said Pat Shields, assistant manager of Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries for Fish and Game. The in-river goal for the Kenai is between 750,000 and 900,000 sockeye for a run of 2 million to 4 million fish.
"At this point, it positions us well for either an early run or a late run," Shields said. "That's a pretty good number right now."
An assessment will be conducted today and Friday to decide if the run is early, on time or late.
"They come when they come," Shields said. "The challenge is determining what the run timing is. That tells you where you need to be."
Once the run timing is decided on, Fish and Game will determine whether or not to increase or decrease fishing in certain areas to achieve its escapement goals.
"That really directs your decision making about when to fish and when not to fish regarding escapement," Shields said.
Should the run prove to be early, there won't be much fishing outside of the designated days. If it's a late run, fishing will have to increase in order to make the in-river goal, Shields said.
"We're looking at the numbers pretty close," he said.
"Right now, it kind of has a feel of being early," Shields said. However, there's no data to suggest an early run, but he said it's beginning to look that way.
Over the past 20 years, the long-term average passage of sockeye through July 19 is 267,000 for the Kenai River.
"(This year) we're ahead of the long-term average for this date," Shields said.
Last year, 209,000 fish made it to the sonar site by July 19 with a total passage of 615,000; in 2007, 147,000 passed by mid-July with 870,000 total; in 2006, just 87,000 sockeye by July 19, but that year had a total passage of 1.4 million.
In the Kasilof River, however, it's an entirely different scenario.
As of Sunday, the total escapement was 193,000 sockeye. The optimum escapement goal is between 150,000 and 300,000.
If the run is determined to be on time or late, Fish and Game will be at or above the high end of its goal, Shields said. A determination of an early run, too, will put the escapement numbers near the 300,000 mark.
"We're fishing that pretty aggressively," Shields said about the Kasilof. "I expect that pattern to continue."
In order to slow down the rate of escapement of sockeye salmon in the Kasilof River, setnetters have been allowed to fish one-half mile off of the beach south of the Blanchard line to the Ninilchik River.
Shields said he expects fishing south of the Blanchard line to remain open.
;Mike Nesper can be reached at email@example.com.
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