ADF&G biologist Dave Gordon says only 4,000 fish had passed through the weir at the top of the falls by mid-July this year. Based on forecast models, that meant that the final run could have been less than 7,000 fish total. So, the department had to put on the brakes just to be safe.
But shortly after the closure on July 16th, several thousand more sockeye showed up. Gordon says the forecast model didn’t quite work as usual.
“We always look at mid-July as a time when that predictor will give you a reasonable prediction, and not change too much from that prediction. But we’ve been proven wrong this year, and it definitely made a big change.”
Managers estimate that there are now about 5,000 sockeye in Redoubt Bay preparing to move up the falls. The prediction model estimates over 12,000 will eventually pass into the lake – well within escapement goals.
Although it’s been a far drier-than-normal summer, Gordon doesn’t think the lack of rainfall played a role in the delayed return. Redoubt Lake is huge compared to some other sockeye systems. Gordon says the Redoubt run is more protracted than others in the neighborhood, like Klag Bay.
“There tends to be a bell-shaped curve to the run – you still get spikes when you get rainfall – but it seems to be less affected by weather, I think. These smaller systems, sometimes it’s all about the rain.”
The optimum escapement for Redoubt Lake is between 7,000 and 25,000 fish. Gordon, and his counterpart in the state’s sport fish division, Troy Tydingco, believe this year’s sluggish return may be the result of too much of a good thing: Between 2003 and 2007, escapement in Redoubt topped 60,000 fish – and one year exceeded 100,000 fish. Gordon and Tydingco think the large volume of sockeye fry possibly might have outstripped the lake’s ability to supply zooplankton, causing a crash of sorts.
The jump in sockeye returns is also good news for brown bears, who’ve been concentrating in higher numbers this year at Redoubt. Biologists have noted that a poor wild berry crop this year has intensified bear activity around streams in the weeks leading up to the returns.
Jack Lorrigan is the subsistence biologist for the US Forest Service, which operates the Redoubt weir. Lorrigan says there are seven bears fishing in the Redoubt Falls, three of which you may have to look up to see.
“There’s a sow with two small cubs down there, and a young boar that, at last report, didn’t know all the rules yet. They’re still feeling their way in the world. The sow’s being protective of her young ones. And she climbs trees. They witnessed her going up a tree just fine, like a black bear. So, they do climb trees.”
Lorrigan says the Forest Service and Federal Subsistence Board supported action to close the sport and subsistence fisheries at Redoubt, saying it’s better to err on the side of caution. But now that it’s reopening, there’s concern that bears and humans share the area safely. Lorrigan says the use of firearms should be considered carefully.
“If you’re dipnetting down in the falls and you have a firearm and you see a bear, chances are it’s upstream of you, and so is the weir crew. If you have that moment of truth, be sure you know what’s behind the bear, because it could be one of our crew.”
The Forest Service is hoping to head off some conflict this season. The Forest Supervisor on Wednesday signed an emergency order prohibiting dogs within one-quarter mile of the Redoubt Falls. Lorrigan says the agency hopes to defuse problems before they start.
“We just want to prevent any unnecessary altercations between the bears, the people, and the dogs, and the weir crew. There’s a dynamic going on down there that could cause a lot of problems.”
Lorrigan says the order banning dogs is temporary, and will be lifted at the conclusion of fishing. He says the formula for Redoubt is simple: “Make sure you have your permits, don’t snag inside the line, be courteous, enjoy yourself, and be safe.”
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