Bag Limit Increases Help Offset Over-Escapement


Brianna Gibbs/KMXT

Last week the Department of Fish and Game issued catch increases for sockeye salmon in two Kodiak area rivers. The Dog Salmon River drainage and the Saltry Cove drainage bag limits increased from five fish per day to 10. Earlier this summer the department increased the bag limit on the Buskin River from two fish per day to five. The increases are due to an exceptionally strong sockeye runs this year, which Area Management Biologist Donn Tracy said could be attributed to ocean conditions over the past few years.
“The fact that we appear to be having really strong sockeye returns all over Kodiak island this year, and in other parts of Alaska as well, might indicate that there has been exceptionally good ocean rearing conditions over the last year or two that has boosted the survival of those fish and at least in part may be responsible for the large adult returns. And that’s just a deduction based on the fact that we’ve had consistently had good returns in a large regional basis this year, and that may be a reason for that may be that those fish collectively had good survival during their ocean life stage.”

Tracy said sockeye typically spend two to three years in their ocean life stage.
While bag limit increases are good news for anglers, they are also meant to help prevent over-escapement in particular river drainage. Tracy said there are different categories of over escapement. Typically, if too many fish get up the river to spawn, there will more than likely be more eggs hatching into fry than the system can handle.
“The fry, sockeye fry, particularly, depend on largely on plankton production within Saltry Lake for survival. If you end up with more fry rearing in Saltry Lake than the plankton population can support then you’ll actually have a progressive starvation event that if the population of fry is high enough where they graze down, or you know consume the plankton population at an extreme rate then you’ll end up with so many of those fry dying off due to starvation that the productivity of the run will be measurably diminished.”
Tracy said that can have repercussions for future run numbers. The
Saltry River drainage has a sockeye escapement goal of 15,000 to 35,000 and according to a Fish and Game release, the department is expecting over-escapment for that area. That prediction is based on historic run times, and the fact that the weir count was more than 10,000 fish when the run was only 20 percent complete.
Tracy said he didn’t know if there will be any more bag limit increases this season, but said the department will be keeping a close eye on escapement and adjust regulations accordingly.

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