The state Department of Fish and Wildlife this week announced an emergency rule change postponing the Baker Lake recreational sockeye salmon season opener.
The lake, located six miles northeast of Concrete, had been scheduled to open Saturday to sockeye salmon retention.
Fish and Wildlife will continue to monitor sockeye returns and will re-evaluate opening retention of sockeye sometime after Friday, July 16.
Monitoring data showed the number of returning sockeye salmon is too low to provide a meaningful opportunity for anglers.
"As of a couple days ago, there were nine sockeye returned to Baker Lake," said Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Eryn Couch.
Frank Urabeck, a sport-fishing advocate who has been involved with Baker Lake and its salmon-related issues for a decade, said while the lack of returning sockeye is deeply concerning, it was not necessarily surprising, seeing how the forecast was for 12,253 fish.
"This year's forecasted return was to be the worst ever," he said. "But nine fish so far, holy cow. But it's really all about timing. I am still optimistic."
Urabeck believes a Baker Lake sockeye fishery will eventually take place, pinning his hopes on what occurred in 2020 when the fish showed up later in July.
"A year ago, the lake didn't open until July 18," he said. "Anglers then caught over 5,000 fish."
There are plenty of management issues when it comes to the fishery.
"While there have only been nine fish transferred to the lake, there have been a couple thousand (1,852) taken to the hatchery for their use," Urabeck said.
There also have been 409 delivered to the spawning beach.
"Of course, the hatchery and spawning goal is 10,000 sockeye. The forecast was for 12,200. So that would leave 2,200 to be split between recreational anglers and the tribes. That's not a lot of fish."
On Wednesday, 1,074 fish were counted at the downstream fish trap located near the mouth of the Baker River. Adding to that tally, the number of fish transported to the hatchery as well as the nine released, and it's a total return of 2,270 sockeye so far.
Those 1,074 fish could signal the surge Urabeck hopes to see.
"There is a lot that is completely out of our control, but everyone involved is doing their part. The tribes, the recreational anglers, the Fish and Wildlife. Everyone wants to keep this run going and are doing all they can," he said. "There are a lot of discussions when it comes to when to open (the fishery) and when not to. That's always the big question."
While the lake will be closed to salmon fishing, it will remain open to fishing for other species as outlined in the 2021-2022 regulation pamphlet.