Big push of early sockeye past Chignik weir

Jun 7, 2016

Early surge prompts extended effort in Chigniks and early start for Sand Point set netters, but the run appears to have tapered back towards normal.

Seiner in the Chignik Lagoon, 2015.
Credit Hannah Colton, KDLG

An big early push of fish past the Chignik weir raised some eyebrows. It's also prompted a little more, and earlier, fishing time than usual for some of the Pacific-side Peninsula fisheries. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more.

Audio transcript: Fishing was opened in Chignik Bay and the Lagoon on June 4, says area management biologist Dawn Wilburn, "mainly due to the fact that we were seeing a large number of fish for this time of year, and we’re well over escapement objectives for this time. And had also some of the largest counts we’ve had probably in the last 20 years."

Through Tuesday morning, escapement past the Chignik weir was 45,000, more than double what is considered normal for this part of June, and that’s with the fleet fishing since Saturday. But since was fishing opened, the run seems to have tapered. Catches have been small, and the count past the weir has slowed, too.

"There’s really not much of a show so far of fish around here," said Wilburn Tuesday afternoon. "So it appears maybe that we just had a large push of fish, and now it could be dropping off. Maybe the run’s starting to develop as normal right now."

Through Monday, Chignik fishermen had brought in close to 16,000 sockeye, and had been extended through Tuesday afternoon.

The early run escapement goal is 350,000. Wilburn and fellow area biologist Lisa Fox in Sand Point aren't sure why the Chignik run spiked early then calmed so quickly.

"Normally, once it starts to build, it just builds and builds, and there's no stopping it," said Fox.

On another front, Wilburn had welcome news on the size of the returning sockeye. Unlike in Copper River, the Chignik fish are coming back bigger this year than last.

"Yeah last year at this time we had quite a few small sockeye. They were around four pounds, which is really small for Chignik," said Wilburn. "Chignik’s been known to have seven-and-a-half pound fish in the early run. This year, they’re looking a lot better, they’re around an average size of five, to five-and-a-half [pounds].”

The quick boost of escapement past the Chignik weir also triggered an earlier than usual opener for Sand Point set netters, beginning Tuesday at noon.

On the Bering Sea side, Northern Peninsula drifters harvested 773 sockeye and 52 kings Monday, most of the catch coming from Nelson Lagoon.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281.