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.
In the harbor, 10 people from various boats teamed up to unlash the fishing vessel Emma Lynn from its neighboring boats and guide it into free water. It’s a scene replayed all day long.
"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."
After 12 years fishing Bristol Bay, Branstiter and his wife Bethany just bought their new boat in Kenai. It took three days to cart it over the Chigmit Mountains to Williamsport and down the Kvichak River to Dillingham.
A few boats down the line, captain Stuart McTaggart from Seattle is doing some final odd jobs in the cabin of the F/V Centaur. He, his daughter Erika Delarosa and deckhands Randon and Sam are all raring to go.
"Everything’s running good, and we’re ready to get this show started," McTaggart said. "We’re just going to go down to Ekuk, drop the hook and get a little bit of rest. The opener starts at 8 a.m., so we’ll get up a little bit before that, look for some fish, and hopefully we find them!"
Randon: "We’re ready to go!"
Sam: "This is my first year, so I’m just interested to see how it all goes."
Erika: "It’s going to be a good year, and it starts with tomorrow."
Area Management Biologist Tim Sands of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says escapement numbers so far seem positive. By Monday, about 4,000 more Chinook had escaped up the Nushagak River than the historical average for June 18 (14,055). Total sockeye escapement was 18,000 fish above the historical average of 4,694.
"We are very far ahead compared to the same day last year. More importantly, we’re ahead of our historical averages," Sands said. "Saying that we’re ahead of this historical mark means that we feel like the run is strong and we don’t have to take conservation measures because we’re ahead. If we were behind, we’d be more conservative."
Sands said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will evaluate catch and escapement information on a tide-by-tide basis to decide when to reopen these Nushagak sections. After this first five-hour window, he says it could be as early as Wednesday night or might be later in the week.
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