Fishermen wondering about this year’s pink return in Lower Cook Inlet will have to wait another week to get their answer, but so far, the signs are good.
“However, there are a couple of things that give us pause,” said Glenn Hollowell, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist. “One of which, is last year’s pink return, which was really quite abysmal. It was one of the worst on record for this area for many returns,”
Hollowell is hesitant to say whether 2017 will be a good year. Fishermen only harvested about 5,000 pinks on the outer coast of the lower peninsula in 2016. That was a large swing from a record harvest in 2015 with over 4 million fish. Those numbers have thrown a wrench in the five-year average.
Hollowell is also waiting to make a judgment on the run because of how many fish made it upstream to spawn in 2015. Escapement goals were exceeded in several systems. Too many fish in a stream or river can actually damage future returns, and the pinks returning this year are the fish that hatched in 2015.
“We just weren’t sure exactly how many of our creeks crossed that threshold. So, I’ve been really reluctant to say this is going to be a good year this year, although things are certainly looking pretty good overall,” Hollowell explained.
Set gillnetters in the southern district near Homer started seeing pinks in their nets in mid-June, about two weeks early. Gillnetters have harvested about 15,500 fish so far. Seining for both the southern and outer district opened Monday, and boats are currently fishing 16-hour openings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“Typically, the crunch point, where returns get really big and a lot of fish start to show up, is the first week of August, next week. I think we’ll know then if this is going to be a nice healthy average return,” Hollowell said.
Hollowell expects fishermen will see more openings if the run continues to grow.