The count thru Saturday, June 9 for Kenai River early-run king salmon totaled 1,488 large fish (greater than 34 inches). The number is substantially less than would be expected for the preseason forecast run of 5,499. For 2013 – 2017, sonar counts as of June 9 averaged about 45 percent of the total return. At normal run timing, the current sonar counts project to an escapement of about 3,200 large fish. If the run timing is two days late, the projected escapement goes to 3,800 large fish. The projections have been trending down with continuing mediocre counts over the last week. Run size projections are notoriously unreliable in the early portion of the run and can change quickly with a few days of improved counts.
The Optimal Escapement Goal (OEG) for the Kenai River early-run king salmon is 3,900 – 6,600 large fish. The low fishing rates to date do not pose a substantial threat to escapement and opportunity remains to manage for escapement goals if the large fish counts do not improve over the next week.
In May and June, the Kenai River early-run king salmon management plan implements a conservation-based harvest strategy. Unless modified by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) through emergency order, the regulations are single-hook, no-bait, and non-retention of fish greater than 36 inches. ADFG can further restrict or liberalize the fishery depending on in-season data. Further restrictions would include non-retention of any size fish (catch and release only). Liberalization, which can only occur below the Soldotna Bridge, include adding bait and or increase the minimum size for retention if the upper end of the OEG of 6,600 large fish has been exceeded. When deciding whether or not to issue emergency orders, ADFG uses multiple factors, including the preseason forecast, run timing projections, and in-season data.