Managers for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have announced the closure of sockeye salmon fishing in the Nome sub-district.
“The escapement counts at the Pilgrim River weir have dropped off,” said Scott Kent, area biologist with ADF&G. “We’re now at about a hundred a day, 200 a day average since July 9th. And so right now our cumulative count through the weir is about 2,700.”
That’s well below the 4,000-8,000 managers say they need to hit escapement targets and keep stocks at a health size. [That’s well below the 4,000-8,000 range area.
Like most other salmon species across Alaska, the sockeye run has been ahead of schedule for the Norton Sound area this year.
That, Kent explained, is because of “a mild winter, and a warm spring, and a lack of shorefast ice melting and keeping things cool, lack of snowfall.”
Fish and Game is worried because while early Sockeye returns were strong, that appears to be because of a rush at the top of the migration, instead of an even distribution. Not only are fish counts low, but scale tests on sample fish are showing that it’s the younger 4-year-old reds now making their way up-river—a sign the run is winding down.
“It’s not looking good the next two years,” Kent said, cautioning that it’s far too early for definitive plans. “There’s the potential to start out closed the next couple years—it’s a potential, start out closed on the Pilgrim, and just wait for the fish to come and then decide if we can open it up.”
But managers are still keeping the Port Clarence sockeye fishery open. That’s because it’s mixed stock, with the equipment catching far more pinks and chums than sockeyes.
“The Port Clarence fishery,” Kent explained, “is a set-gillnet fishery—you know, you go out and you’re gonna catch a hundred fish and 90 of them are gonna be chums and maybe a few pinks in there, and then you know they’re gonna catch a few reds. Well they’re gonna fill their fish rack up, and they’re gonna pull their net out.”
But that’s far from the case with fishing on the Pilgrim.
“With the Pilgrim River it’s basically a directed sockeye fishery. So all the harvest pressure is focused on one species. And seining is a very efficient gear type with the right people. So, yeah, there’s just a lot of fishing power there.”
As of 6pm yesterday all net fishing on the Pilgrim and Kuzitrin rivers is closed. However, the good news for subsistence salmon users in the Nome area: pink and chum escapement numbers have already been reached, with limits on both lifted. You can find details on ADF&G’s sockeye closures here, and for more information on pink and chum limits around Nome you can click here.