On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: KDLL’s Sabine Poux reports on more king closures, KUAC’s Dan Bross tells of low salmon returns to the Yukon, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council figures a warmer climate into their snow crab rebuilding plan.
Sabine Poux KDLL
Poor runs already closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing this June.
And this week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is closing several other king salmon sport fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula, on the Kasilof [kuh-SEE-loff] and Ninilchik [Nuh-NIL-chik] rivers, as well as in Cook Inlet salt water.
It’s all pointing to the downturn of king salmon in Cook Inlet. KDLL’s Sabine Poux has more.
Mike Booz, the Lower Cook Inlet sportfish area manager for Fish and Game, says the department is trying to be proactive in limiting and restricting king fisheries amid that downturn.
“I want nothing more than to have good numbers of king salmon returning to our streams every year. But I think it’s going to be a test of patience here for what we’ve been seeing.”
King salmon populations have been suffering in Cook Inlet.
Booz says the department’s been squeaking out escapement goals. But he says the runs haven’t supported good fishing or harvest opportunities.
He says, last week, it was clear the runs were not doing well enough to support fisheries.
“It was pretty obvious that these runs were looking to be some of the weakest runs we’ve seen here in Cook Inlet since we’ve been monitoring escapement.”
That’s true for both the Kasilof and Ninilchik rivers, which are stocked with hatchery-produced kings.
The Ninilchik River has closed before, most recently in 2018. But Booz says it’s the first time in his memory that the department closed the Kasilof to king fishing.
The Anchor River and Deep Creek are also closed to sport fishing, as of June 11.
And it’s all on top of the recent closure of the popular Kenai king early run.
For sportfishing guides on the southern peninsula, that means rerouting from the king salmon streams on the southern peninsula to the sockeye runs on the central peninsula.
That’s what Grant Anderson with the Fly Box in Anchor Point plans to do. Though it comes at a cost for his business
“It’s an extra hour drive each direction and then an hour drive to Kasilof, hour and 10 minutes or so to Kenai.”
He says he’ll be taking clients up to the Kenai this year — like he has the last several years.
Booz says the department will do what it can to restrict the fisheries amid the multi-year downturn of kings. He says that means making timely and conservative management decisions — which he says will likely need to continue going forward.
“Ideally, I’d like to see king salmon start turning around right now. But it feels like we’re in for the long haul.”
The Kasilof and Cook Inlet saltwater king fisheries close Wednesday. The Ninilchik River closes to king fishing Thursday.
But if you do want to fish for kings, there are a few options on the Kenai Peninsula.
Lower Cook Inlet is still open to king salmon fishing. That’s everything south of Bluff Point, near the same latitude as Diamond Creek. Booz says the king fishing there has been slow so far.
The Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon in Homer and the Seldovia Slough are also still producing kings.
Dan Bross KUAC
Salmon passage on the lower Yukon River is lagging. A sonar counter at Pilot Station had tallied only 24 hundred Chinook, and 307 Summer Chum salmon as of Monday. Federal management biologist Holly Carroll assessed the situation during a weekly Yukon River Fisheries Drainage Association teleconference on Tuesday.
“Our counts at Pilot Station sonar right now are well below average for both Chinook and Summer Chum and so right now its just really essential tat we get all these salmon up to the spawning grounds.”
Salmon fishing is being closed in sync with migration upriver.
“If we do this now you know it should make it that enough fish get to the spawning grounds and we should see better returns in the future, so I just want to thank everyone for that stewardship and that conservation.”
This year’s Yukon River chinook and chum runs are forecast to be similar to last year’s weak returns and again insufficient to meet escapement goals and provide any surplus for harvest.
Snow Crab Rebuilding
Terry Haines KMXT
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been tasked with designing a plan to rebuild snow crab stocks in the Eastern Bering Sea. The first question they had to ask themselves is why did they crash in the first place? Here is Dr. Franz Mueter from a presentation he gave to the Council at their recent meeting:
Here is Council Member Bill Tweit:
So the scientists think a mass mortality event due to warm conditions is to blame for the sudden crash of Bering Sea snow crab. The question managers have to ask themselves is how common will these events be in the future? Estimates range between every 38 to every 7 years. Is it even realistic to think snow crab can be rebuilt to historically high levels? Or are we in a new reality in which the expected level of the rebuilt stock will be much lower than it has been? Here again is Dr. Mueter:
So in other words, it’s all about making their best guess, and adjusting as they go along. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will be examining the various rebuilding projections and narrowing their plan options at their next meeting in October. They would like to have statistics from the 2022 stock survey in hand when they do, but that ball is still in the air. Time is short. They are operating on a strict two-year time limit to implement the plan, and the clock is ticking.