Sockeye forecast cautiously optimistic

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Expect a few more sockeye to run in 2002 than in previous years. But just a few. After a lull in red salmon harvesting over the past two years, Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials say the numbers for next spring are looking up.

"There will be a slight improvement," said department research project leader Mark Willette.

According to Fish and Game projections, there will be a return of 3.7 million sockeye to the upper Cook Inlet in 2002 with a forecasted harvest of 2.2 million, up from this year's 2.1 million and the 1.5 million of two years ago.

The return to the Kenai River is forecasted to be 1.7 million, with 787,000 returning to the Kasilof River, 451,000 to the Susitna River, 141,000 to Crescent River (directly across the inlet from Kenai) and 95,000 to Fish Creek (drainage from Big Lake in the Mat-Su Valley).

Relationships between adult returns and spawners, adult returns and smolts and adult returns and siblings were used to forecast the return of the sockeye. In most cases, sibling relationships were used.

The return of age 1.3 sockeye salmon to the Kenai River in 2002 was forecast using the sibling model. The sibling-model prediction was based on the return of age 1.2 sockeye salmon to Kenai River in 2001.

The age 1.2 salmon are those that have been in fresh water for one year and in salt water for two years, and this same 1-point aging ratio is used to identify all salmon.

The abundance of smolts emigrating from Tustumena Lake was used to forecast returns of age 1.2 and age 2.2 sockeye salmon to the Kasilof River in 2002. This is the first time the model has been used in this system, according to the department.

Willette said an abundance of fry rearing in Skilak Lake were not used to predict the 2002 harvest, because the fry that will produce the return of age 1.3 sockeye in 2002 were the smallest ever observed at Skilak Lake.

Willette said next year's expected numbers will still fall well below the 20-year average for the upper Cook Inlet waters of nearly four million.

"Overall, we will still not measure up to the average," he said.

Only 907,000 age 1.3 sockeye salmon are predicted to reach the Kenai River in 2002, about half of the 20-year average return for this age group. The projected return to the Kasilof River is 778,000, 98,000 less than the 20-year average of 885,000 for this age group.

Willette said the total 2002 forecast is based upon numbers of smolt monitored between 1996 through 2000.

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