Fishing restrictions announced:
- From May 16 through June 30 from the Kenai River mouth upstream to Skilak Lake, and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai upstream to the Sterling Highway bridge, king salmon 20 inches or greater in length and less than 55 inches in length may not be possessed or retained, may not be removed from the water, and must be released immediately. Harvest of king salmon less than 20 inches or greater than 55 inches in length is still allowed.
- From July 1 to July 14 in the Kenai from Fish and Game regulatory markers approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai upstream to the Sterling Highway bridge, king salmon 20 inches or greater in length and less than 55 inches in length may not be possessed or retained, may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately. Harvest of king salmon less than 20 inches or greater than 55 inches in length is still allowed.
- Use of bait is not allowed in the Kenai River from the regulatory markers 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake, and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai to the Sterling Highway bridge.
By Jenny Neyman
Rather than that being the hopeful sound of a lure hitting the water, it more represents the sinking feeling among anglers that the king salmon fishing season on the Kenai River is already off to a poor start, before it even opens Thursday. On May 9, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced restrictions to catch-and-release and trophy fishing only in the Kenai.
According to the department, the restrictions are being put in place to conserve the early run and help it meet its Board of Fisheries-mandated optimal escapement goal of 5,300 to 9,000 fish. The preseason forecast for the early run estimates a total of about 5,300 fish, which would put it on par with the lowest runs measured in 28 years — similar in abundance to the scant 2012 early run, on which fishing was closed midseason last year. The estimate of 5,300 fish is less than half the size of the average run strength from 1986 to 2012 of 14,000 fish.
“There is little indication to date of a change in the low chinook production trend observed statewide. It is therefore prudent to start the early run fishery as catch-and-release until in-season data indicates some harvest can be allowed or, alternatively, further restriction is necessary to meet the (optimum escapement goal),” according to the emergency order issued May 9.
While bad news such as this is never welcome to anglers, it’s even less welcome, particularly to fishing guides, coming as it did just a week before the season opens.
“I think they should have announced it a lot earlier and not put the guide component in a bind like they did. They announced it the same week the fishery opens — that’s crazy. I just think it was handled poorly,” said Dwight Kramer, chair of the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition.
He said he supports the department’s decision to enact restrictions, given that the department’s early run management plan calls for an optimum escapement goal of at least 5,300 fish, and the forecast is predicting only 5,300 fish.
“I’m all for conservation of the early run,” Kramer said. “They were already at the minimum escapement goal in the forecast before any harvest. So I think they were stuck — they had to do this.”
But Kramer questions why the department waited so long to announce the restrictions. The early run forecast was released April 17.
“That’s when they should have done it,” he said.