With weak returns, the first few weeks of the Kenai River early king salmon run have disappointed fishermen. But in focusing on dreary return numbers, fishermen may be overlooking one good piece of news in this year’s early king salmon run. Although fishermen have caught few fish during the early king salmon run, those who have may have been more likely to catch a big one than in previous years.
Creel surveys taken of fish harvested from the Kenai River suggest the proportion of large, early run kings harvested this year bumped upward after about eight years of proportionally small harvests of large kings.
The largest king salmon spend four or five years in the ocean before they return to the Kenai River. Creel survey data tracking early run Kenai king salmon harvested from 1989 to 2009 indicate a steep drop in the proportion of four-year ocean fish being caught, starting right around 2000, according to Jeff Perschbacher, a fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.
From 1986 until 2000, the percent of early run kings harvested by fishermen that were four-year ocean fish hovered right around 75 percent. Between 2000 and 2006, that number dropped to about 40 percent, and by 2007 it dropped to 20 percent. In 2008, the percentage of harvested early king salmon that were four-year ocean fish inched back upward to about 30 percent, but so far this year it looks like it could be more than 50 percent.