Kodiak’s commercial sockeye salmon season gets off to a bang tomorrow. Already this week has far exceeded expectations, with Monday setting an all time record for sockeye past the Karluk weir.
On Monday, a whopping 46,000 fish hit the river, prompting fish and game biologists to reconsider the numbers and open the season early on June 1.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Kodiak Commercial Salmon Area Biologist James Jackson explains that island-wide commercial opening is based on activity at specific rivers.
“In June around Kodiak the majority of the commercial salmon fisheries are managed based on the local sockeye runs. And the four big sockey runs are Karluk, Ayakulik Upper Station and Frazier.”
The biggest of those is usually the Karluk River.
“And Karluk early run has come in like a bang this year. There’s quite a few fish. We had a one day of nearly 46,000 fish Monday which basically puts us 10 days ahead of where we want to be. So we’re gonna open on June 1. The last time, I think, that we did that was 2005. So it’s been a while since we opened that early. So we’ll see what happens.”
But, the waters get muddy as we move on into July and on to the bread-and-butter pink salmon fishery.
The Alaska Legislature has yet to get close to approve a budget for the coming fiscal year which begins on July 1. If a budget is not approved by midnight Wednesday the Department of Administration will send out 18,000 pink slips to state employees warning of an impending mass layoff on the first of July.
While the early sockeye season will take place despite budget uncertainty, it is the pink salmon season that could be hurt most by those state pink slips.
That’s because most of Kodiak’s fisheries are managed based on how many fish get up the rivers. Without people to work the weirs, there can be no accurate data on how many fish escape upstream to spawn.
“That’s correct most all of fisheries in Kodiak are managed based on local abundance. And if you don’t know what the local abundance is it’s going to be difficult to keep the fisheries open. There might be some that we’ll be able to keep open if we document enough escapement in certain places.”
Kodiak’s pink salmon harvest projection is in the range of 28 million fish, Jackson refers to it as an order of magnitude larger than the sockeye season. Both in terms of number and importance to Kodiak. Last year, Kodiak’s pink season was a disaster, the effects of which rippled through the fishing community and local economy.
Jackson can’t say when, but Fish and Game has set a drop dead date on which the pink salmon season will come to a screeching halt if no state budget is approve.
“We’re gonna get to a certain date and if it looks like we’re not gonna have a budget in July then we’re going to have to open up all the weirs and bring those people back. Because they can’t be working for free.”
James Jackson, Kodiak Commercial Salmon and Herring Area Biologist.