Sockeye numbers unexpected

Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2004

Commercial fishers harvested 5.7 million salmon in Upper Cook Inlet in 2004, according to preliminary figures provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Of those fish, the vast majority were sockeye salmon, with 4.9 million sockeye harvested. The overall number of salmon and the number of sockeye harvested are above the projected number and the average number of fish for the area.

According to Fish and Game biologist Jeff Fox, this year's sockeye return was unexpected.

"It was about a million and a half more than expected," Fox said.

Fish and Game projected a return of around 5.2 million sockeye, with a commercial harvest of 3.7 million. However, stronger than expected returns to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers led to the big numbers.

The commercial harvest for Upper Cook Inlet was the highest since 1992, when 9.1 million sockeye and 10.5 million total salmon were taken.

The harvest was split fairly evenly between drift and set gillnet fishers.

Central District Cook Inlet drifters caught a total of 2.1 million sockeye, while East Side setnetters harvested nearly 2.3 million reds. The rest of the harvest was taken by Northern District fishers.

Despite the increase in catch numbers, the Kenai and Kasilof rivers exceeded their sockeye escapement goals. On the Kenai, biologists set a goal of between 750,000 and 950,000 fish.

This year's escapement ended up coming in at 1.38 million fish.

On the Kasilof, the goal was between 150,000 and 250,000 less than half of the 577,489 the department said swam up the river.

Fox said this year's run was a strange one, in that fish seemed to come in at odd times. Up until mid-August, more than 40,000 sockeye were streaming into the Kenai River.

However, Fox said that's not totally unusual for such a big run of fish.

"Big runs have big tails," Fox said.

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