Tag Archives: Alaska Department of Fish and Game

The mysterious case of Alaska’s strange sockeye salmon returns this year

There’s something unusual going on with the sockeye salmon runs returning to Alaska this year. In some places — like Bristol Bay — the runs are strong. In others, like the Copper River or the Kenai River they’re unexpectedly weak. In some places, there are sockeye that are unusually small. In others, sockeye of a certain age appear to be missing entirely. It’s a mystery. In Southeast Alaska, one of the first Fish and Game staffers to notice an unusual trend was Iris Frank, a regional data coordinator and fisheries technician. Frank’s lab is on the first floor of Fish and Game’s Douglas Island office that looks like it hasn’t changed much in the 32 years since she got there. >click to read<18:06

After a long wait, Ugashik fishermen’s patience paid off

Fishermen in Ugashik Bay are used to their sockeye salmon to showing up late in Bristol Bay’s salmon season. This summer’s salmon season was especially trying, but for some, the wait was worth it. Conrad Day and his crew tow a net into the Ugashik River in preparation for the incoming high tide. He explained, “Now we’ll just wait on the switch, cause when the water floods the fish come with it. It’s like a free ride upriver.” Things are quiet out on the water tonight, but a few days ago the river would’ve been full of fellow set netters preparing for the evening sockeye run. >click to read<17:12

Value of Bristol Bay salmon rises, even as the fish shrink

Bristol Bay’s strong salmon returns stand in stark contrast to other parts of Alaska where the fish have trickled in slowly or seemingly not at all. Statewide, though, fish of all species are coming in smaller. Here’s why. 2018 has been a year for the Bristol Bay record books as total sockeye run surpassed 61 million on Thursday, putting it just a half-million fish behind the largest run of 61.7 million in 1980. Bert Lewis oversees commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He’s impressed at the strength of the Nushagak district’s run and even at Bristol Bay’s east-side districts, which came in “late but solidly.”>click to read<10:46

UPDATE: Fuel from sunken vessel closes fishing in Nushagak District

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the closure of the Nushagak District to all commercial fishing as of 1:00 p.m. Thursday after fuel from the sunken fishing vessel Pacific Knight was observed by air. According to ADF&G, fuel was seen by Fish and Game staff pooling in tide rips. The sheen is expected to spread across Nushagak Bay toward Dillingham with the tide, and presents a “significant chance of gear and fish being exposed to fuel.” The department also warns of the chance for gear and fish to be contaminated on Dillingham’s beaches. ADF&G says staff will continue to monitor the spread of fuel. There is no immediate timetable for when fishing might reopen. >click to read<20:41

Here’s why ice was a hot commodity in the Nushagak this summer

Bristol Bay’s Nushagak fishing district pulled in more than a million sockeye on eight separate days earlier this month. Before this summer, it had only done that twice in Bristol Bay’s history.
Keeping all those fish cool proved problematic for fishermen who still rely on slush ice. Capt. Nick Sotiropoulos of the fishing vessel Flyin’ Tiger said he’d like at least 1,000 pounds of ice for every opener to keep his catch cold and earn that chilled quality bonus from his processor.,, Just over 10 percent of Bristol Bay’s fleet relies on ice to chill their fish. Another 27 percent turn over unchilled fish to processors, and the final 63 percent are drift boats with refrigerated sea water systems. >click to read<14:43

Board of Fisheries declares low Chignik sockeye returns an emergency

Like many Gulf of Alaska communities, far fewer sockeye are returning to the Chignik River than forecasted. Chignik has an early and late run. The combined escapement goal for July 20 is 416,000 sockeye. As of July 18, only 222,000 sockeye had made it upriver to spawn. With no harvestable surplus, the Chignik Management area has not had a commercial fishing opportunity targeting sockeye. Further, some residents say they are voluntarily forgoing subsistence fishing to boost escapement. Audio report, >click to read<13:24

Kenai River anglers ask for closure of Cook Inlet commercial set netting

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) is calling for the closure of set net fishing on the Cook Inlet until adequate numbers of king and sockeye salmon enter the Kenai River. The organization is asking Gov. Bill Walker to direct the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to take action and help Kenai River salmon numbers rebound.,,, One commercial set netter agrees a closure could benefit harvests for both sides. “As a commercial set netter for almost 50 years, and speaking for myself,” Ken Coleman said, “I believe we commercial fisherman have always been in favor of department closures when the health of the fisheries is at risk, whether it be sockeyes, or Chinook or other species. >click to read<08:24

Southeast Dungeness crab fishermen will have full season in 2018

Southeast Alaska’s Dungeness crab fishery had a strong first week and will not have a shortened season like last year. The summer season for most of the region started June 15. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced in late June that crabbers would have a full two-month summer season. Fishermen caught more than 871,000 lbs. during the first week. The agency uses the first week’s catch to estimate how many crab will be harvested during the season. Tessa Bergmann with Fish and Game in Petersburg said this year’s estimate is the third highest on record. “Our harvest estimate for the 2018 season is just over 3.7 million lbs.,” Bergmann said. That is well above the 2.25 million lb. estimate required for a full season in Southeast Alaska. It will mean crabbers can keep fishing through Aug. 15. >click to read<15:08

Bristol Bay sockeye harvest breaking records as other districts suffer

The Nushugak District in Bristol Bay is experiencing an all-time record harvest of sockeye salmon as other districts across Alaska suffer poor returns. “Last year the Nushagak set an all-time record of 12.3 million fish for the year, I just got off the phone [on Friday] with the manager and he expects that record to be broken today,” said Art Nelson, a spokesperson for commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “And there are more fish to come.” Other districts across Alaska have been struggling with poor sockeye harvests. >click to read<08:44

Naknek-Kvichak District closes to boost Kvichak River Escapement, Special Harvest Area will be open

A big announcement today from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game today. The Naknek-Kvichak District is closed. The Naknek River Special Harvest Area will be open to drift gillnet gear tonight at 8 p.m. That triggers the Egegik District to close and move into the Egegik River Special Harest Area. Drift gillnetters there will also see an 8 p.m. opening. Across Bristol Bay’s five districts, no dual permit boat may have more than 150 fathoms of gear on board, starting this at 8 p.m. as well. These restrictions are an effort to boost escapement on the Kvichak River, which is far behind where it needs to be to meet the bottom end of its goal, 2 million sockeye. >click to read<20:09

Salmon struggles extend to unprecedented restrictions at Chignik

A tough sockeye salmon commercial fishing season is shaping up in the Gulf of Alaska, from the Copper River across to Kodiak Island and back to the mainland at Chignik. And the Yukon River is seeing dismal chinook salmon returns, although the summer chum run is strong. “I haven’t put my net in the water once,” complained Chignik purse seiner Roger Rowland on June 26. “It’s literally the worst run ever.” Rowland commented from the fishing district on his cellphone, via teleconference in an Unalaska City Council meeting, about 300 miles to the southwest where he lives, during a break between votes. >click to read< 18:36

Poor salmon runs result in low harvests, disaster request

Poor salmon returns across the Gulf of Alaska are putting commercial fishing catches far behind the average and prompting a request for a disaster declaration. Commercial fishermen and fisheries managers have been puzzling so far this season as to why the sockeye salmon runs that usually keep boats in the water have been so weak. Copper River fishermen have been frequently closed this season because of poor sockeye counts at the sonar at Miles Lake. As of Wednesday, 320,145 fish had passed the sonar, below the cumulative management objective for that date of 409,931 fish, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s online fish counts. >click to read<09:09

Unexplained sockeye dropoff shuts down Yakutat fishery

Add Yakutat’s wild sockeye run to a growing list of struggling Alaska salmon stocks. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down set net fishermen in the Yakutat District on Thursday after fishery managers determined less than 10 percent of the historical average have returned. Weirs on the Situk River have counted only 1,700 returning sockeye this year. That’s down from an average of 20,000. It’s the smallest return on record for this time in the year and a dropoff managers did not predict. >click to read<11:03

Southeast Alaska commercial troll summer king season opens July 1

Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon trollers open their summer season for king salmon July 1st with a harvest target of 53,800 Chinook. The fleet is expected to catch that in a short opening. That’s after low catches and restricted fishing for kings this spring. The first summer opening is expected to last four or five days and will be managed in-season. That means the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will announce a closure once the catch nears that harvest target. Grant Hagerman is the department’s troll management biologist for Southeast and says fishing in the spring season has been slow. Audio report, >click to read<17:06

Copper River crash will cost commercial fishermen millions

Copper River sockeye fishermen are facing historic low returns this year, prompting some commercial fisherman to target other species elsewhere in Prince William Sound, and leaving others waiting onshore in what is usually a profitable fishery to the tune of $15 million or more in ex-vessel value. Through mid-June, the commercial Copper River District drift gillnet fishery had landed just less than 26,000 sockeye salmon and a little more than 7,000 kings during three mid-May fishing periods. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had expected a harvest this summer of nearly 1 million sockeye in the district, and about 13,000 kings. As the harvest stands now, it’s the second-lowest in the past 50 years. >click to read<16:21

Drift fishermen hopeful for Wednesday’s Nushagak opener

Fishermen faced blustery bouts of rain Tuesday at Dillingham’s small boat harbor, but that’s not dampening their enthusiasm for Wednesday’s commercial drift net opener in the Nushagak and Igushik sections. Many drift boats plan to ride Tuesday night’s tide out into the bay for the first commercial drift gillnet opening from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday. “You saw it here – as soon as that announcement (went out at 9 a.m. Tuesday), there was boat after boat getting thrown in the water here. I would assume there’s going to be quite an interest in this opener,” said Logan Branstiter of the F/V B-Team. “(We’re going to) start looking around, looking for jumpers, looking for signs of fish and activity and hope you hope you set on them.” >click to read<07:26

Humpy invasion

While West Coast Americans – Alaskans among them – worry and fret about farmed Atlantic salmon escaping to invade the Pacific Ocean despite decades of failed stocking efforts aimed at helping them do so, the Norwegians, Scots and other Europeans are facing a real and significant problem with an invasive Pacific salmon – the ubiquitous Alaska humpy. The smallest of the Pacific salmon, the humpy – or pink salmon – is by far the most common species in the 49th state. Of the 224.6 million salmon caught in Alaska last year, 63 percent, some 114.6 million, were pinks, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  And Northern Europeans are now worried the highly adaptable and voracious humpy could become a common species in their coastal waters. Blame the Russians. >click to read<15:52

Unexpected bounty

Good news at last for salmon-loving Alaskans who’ve watched sockeye returns to the fabled Copper River spurt and falter this year. No, the Copper hasn’t witnessed the miraculous return of tens of thousands of overdue fish, but there are now indications that the disastrously weak run there might be limited to the wild, 26,000-square mile watershed near the Canadian border. An unexpected bounty of sockeye has shown up at Bear Lake on the Kenai Peninsula and the early return of sockeye to the Kenai’s Russian River looks to be tracking the 2017 return, albeit it a week late.,,, Commercial fishermen had harvested 125,000 Bear Lake sockeye through Thursday – about seven times as many as through the same date last year, according to Fish and Game. >click to read<12:34

Horrible timing

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was Wednesday lobbying Alaska residents to buy Chitina dipnet permits to fish the Copper River even as the troubled, 2018 return of sockeye salmon to that big, muddy drainage was fading so badly that Cordova commercial fishermen pleaded to have the dipnet fishery shut down. “As of today sonar counts are well below projected counts and remain below the minimum threshold of 360,000 sockeye salmon for spawning escapements,” the Cordova District Fishermen United said in a letter to state officials. “In light of the weak early run component, restrictive closures on commercial fishing openers, and no noticeable increase in counts at the sonar currently, it is in the best interest of our sockeye runs to close the Copper River personal use and sport fisheries.” >click to read<18:26

Optimism scarce as commercial fisheries start up in Southeast

Activity is picking up in the harbors in Petersburg this week as fishing boats and tenders prepare for the start of several commercial fishing seasons, but optimism is a little scarce on the docks. Fishermen this summer are feeling the impacts of reduced catches, low forecasts and increasing competition from marine mammals. In South Harbor, Charlie Christensen is readying the Erika Ann for some tendering work in the early summer. Then he’ll switch over to seining once pink salmon start coming in. He has a long list of bad news for his fishing season, stretching back to management decisions by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for golden or brown king crab. He also points to whale predation on black cod,,, >click to read< 17:22

No commercial opener for Copper River salmon fishery

Faced with a sonar count that is the ninth lowest on record since 1978, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the Copper River district of Prince William Sound would remain closed to commercial fishing. The midday announcement on June 6 assured that the district would open to subsistence fishing on June 7. Cumulative commercial harvest to date is the second lowest harvest in the last 50 years, ADF&G said in an announcement from its Cordova office. Harvesters were advised, however, that the commercial fishery might open on short notice, should indices of sockeye salmon abundance support such a fishery.  >click to read<11:12

Alaska: Prices are up, but commercial salmon harvests and forecasts are down

As a number of commercial salmon fisheries around the state kick off this week, the outlook for ex-vessel prices is looking good. Fishing economists say between lower run forecasts and strong foreign and domestic demand, commercial fishermen will likely see higher prices this year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean commercial fishermen will earn more this season compared to last year. Andy Wink with Wink Research and Consulting said although prices vary by species and region, most fisheries should see stable or higher prices this year. >click to read<08:20

Norton Sound: Expect Strong Salmon Runs This Summer

Salmon runs in the Norton Sound area are expected to be at least as strong as last year, with the exception of king, or Chinook, salmon. That’s according to Jim Menard, the Norton Sound and Kotzebue area fisheries manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We think things are going good. And we just don’t want to be surprised with another crash. The sun’s shining right now, and we’re counting on a good year. The only long-term trend we’ve seen is the downward spiral of the king salmon.” >click to read<14:01

Copper failure

The commercial fishing season for Copper River salmon – the most coveted of Alaska fish – is shaping up as a disaster for the isolated fishing community of Cordova. Prices paid to fishermen are now reported at $9.50 per pound for prime fish, but there just aren’t many fish to be had and most of them are small. “Absolutely unprecedented” is how Stormy Haught, the area research biologists for Alaska Department of Fish and Game described the situation Wednesday. Haught is well aware of the long, detailed history of Cooper River commercial fisheries because he’s been back through all the data looking for a parallel to this season that might indicate to fishery managers how they can expect the run to play out going forward. >click to read<08:18

Copper River sockeye run likely to fall well below forecast

The Copper River commercial sockeye fishery is likely to fall below forecast for the second year in a row. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed one of the fishery’s 12-hour openings last week due to low escapement and abysmal harvest levels. That trend continued this week with a slow fishing period on Monday, and the department announced Wednesday that it’s closing the fishery on Thursday for the second week in a row. >click to read<07:40

Low Copper River sockeye returns leave state mulling closures

Initially poor runs of sockeye salmon on the Copper River have prompted the state to cancel at least one window for commercial fishing from the river, with future opportunities being reassessed based on tracking data. The state Department of Fish and Game issued a Wednesday statement closing a planned Thursday window for Copper River commercial fishing, but allowing a subsistence fishing window on the same day to continue. The statement cited sonar data from Miles Lake as a key factor in the closure. >click to read<19:16

Northern District king salmon setnetters stay closed

Subsistence fishermen in part of the Susitna River drainage will be able to harvest a few kings, but commercial fishermen in Northern Cook Inlet will remain closed for now. The Board of Fisheries considered two emergency petitions Monday related to the preseason restrictions of king salmon fishing in northern Cook Inlet after preseason forecasts indicated that the Deshka River would not see enough king salmon returning to meet its escapement goals. The board approved an action related to a petition from the Mt. Yenlo Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which requested limited subsistence fishing opportunity for king salmon on the upper Yentna River, and denied another asking for reconsideration of the commercial fishery closure from the Tyonek Fish and Game Advisory Committee. >click to read<

Board of Fisheries denies petition on hatcheries

The members of the Board of Fisheries agree that Pacific salmon hatchery impacts on wild salmon stocks are concerning, but they aren’t clear on what to do to address them yet. At a meeting Monday to consider emergency petitions, the board declined to consider an emergency petition submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and signed by a variety of Southcentral Alaska sportfishing organizations expressing concern about a hatchery operation permit. Specifically, the petition asked the board to intervene in a permit modification procedure for the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation to increase its pink salmon egg take this season by 20 million. >click to read<15:35

Kings of the wild frontier

In 2013, I sat in a courtroom in Bethel, Alaska, and watched the trial of 23 Yup’ik fishermen, accused of flouting a ban on the fishing of king salmon the previous summer. The ban had been implemented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as king salmon numbers plummeted, unexpectedly and inexplicably. The fishermen pleaded not guilty. They were justified in fishing, they said, because the taking of king salmon was part of their spiritual practice, their cultural heritage. First amendment. Mike Williams, then chief of the Yup’ik nation, pulled me to one side during a recess. “Gandhi had his salt, we have our salmon,” he said. For the Yup’ik, getting arrested was no accident. They had issued a press release about their intention to fish before setting out. >click to read< 14:46

Upper Cook Inlet – Commercial fishermen to open with regular periods

Commercial fisheries managers in Cook Inlet are moving forward with a cautious eye on salmon runs but relatively normal fishing regulations for the summer. An Alaska Department of Fish and Game announcement released Friday detailed the 2018 commercial salmon fishing management strategy for Upper Cook Inlet. Managers are predicting a somewhat lower Kenai River late-run king salmon return, but it’s still within the sustainable escapement goal; the sockeye salmon forecast for the Kenai River is predicted to be 2.5 million, which is about 1.1 million less than the recent 20-year average. >click to read<08:04