As we enter July and the fishery for late-run Kenai River king salmon begins I think that it is important that we have a working knowledge of how the Late-run Management Plan works. The plan basically provides for paired restrictions between the sport and the ESSN fisheries when the projected in-river run is less than 22,500 fish. Remember that the escapement goal range is 15,000-30,000. This year the projected total run is 22,115 so it is clear that an in-river run of less than 22,500 is expected. Earlier this week the Department issued emergency orders which set the king plan into effect on July 1. The sport fishery will be prosecuted without bait, commercial regular periods are gone, the Tuesday window is gone and the set net fishery will be limited to no more than 36 hours per fishing week. Fishing weeks are Sunday through Saturday. So long as an escapement of greater than 15,000 is assured the fisheries will proceed. Should it become apparent that an escapement of less than 15,000 is likely then further restrictions will be put into effect.
I think that it is also worth understanding what the plan provides for should the run come in larger than what is expected. At some point into the 2015 season should the department project an in-river run of greater than 22,500 this assessment might trigger management actions taken to liberalize the fisheries.
Obviously we all want to see more fish and would enjoy more liberalized fishing, but we also want to see more fish spawn. When thinking about these issues remember to distinguish between total run and in-river run. If the total run is larger than expected and come about July 20 the department is projecting an in-river run of slightly more than 22,500 then they would be able to issue an emergency order that allows bait in the sport fishery (they will not open the middle river) and puts the commercial fishery back under the late-run sockeye plan with regular periods and limits on EO time based on the abundance of late-run sockeye and allow retention of kings in the personal use fishery. To justify these actions they will have to estimate what these actions will mean in terms of harvest of late-run king salmon and assure that the resulting escapement will still be in the range of 15,000-30,000. Estimating this will be difficult but not impossible. I don’t know how many kings the sport fishery could harvest using bait from say July 21-31 but it is a good guess that 6-8 commercial periods plus a couple extra commercial periods in early August would each take at least 250 a day. It may be easy to still land within the 15-30 range but my guess is that the harvest would favor commercial at least 2 to 1 and that the resulting escapement would be at least 2500 fish less than just riding it out with the mid-level management restrictions is place. This is the plan and we will be watching closely how they are making projections and reviewing their math on projecting harvest under various management strategies.
-Kevin Delaney, Fishery Biologist