Naknek-Kvichak District closes to boost Kvichak River escapement

Jul 7, 2018

The Kvichak River is likely coming in below forecast. The Naknek River Special Harvest Area will open tonight, and drift boats from the district will have the opportunity to fish exclusively Naknek salmon. ADF&G hopes that, with the larger district closed, enough sockeye will make it up the Kvichak River to meet the escapement goal.

Drift boats in Naknek prepare to fish the line of the Naknek River Special Harvest Area.
Credit Mitch Borden/KDLG

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.

“With what we’ve got through the counting tower, we’re about five days behind the escapement goal curve to meet 2 million,” said ADF&G area management biologist, Travis Elison. “Since yesterday, our in river estimate has bumped up. We’ve had three decent tides of passage into the Kvichak River. So now we’re estimating about half a million in the river, but that takes about two days from them to get past the tower.”

NRSHA marks the Naknek River Special Harvest Area.
Credit ADF&G

Once those in-river fish are counted as escapement, the Kvichak will still be two days behind where it needs to be for a sustainable sockeye return. Elison said this is by far the smallest run in recent history.

“What we’re missing right now from Kvichak is the fish that came in 2013 from that brood year, which was a poor run. It was pretty low escapement; the Kvichak was under 2.1 million. So looking at the age compositions from both the catch and escapement tower, we’re missing the 2.2s and 1.3s, particularly the 2.2s. So that is another indicator besides just lack of fish that we’ve seen in-district that we’re missing some major components of that run and it’s almost certainly below forecast,” he explained.

The Naknek River, on the other hand, met the bottom end of its escapement goal yesterday of 800,000 reds.  By closing the larger district and moving boats into the mouth of the Naknek River, Kvichak sockeye will get a chance to swim unfished to their natal streams to spawn, while fishermen harvest Naknek reds.

Elison anticipates that the NRSHA will be open for a minimum of two days and will start with two drift gill net openings. The last time fishing in the district was restricted to the special harvest area was 2007.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.