Friday, July 1 marks the official beginning of the fishery for late-run king salmon in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. On Friday, June 24 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) issued an Emergency Order (EO) informing anglers that the use of bait would be prohibited in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to a marker located at the outlet of Skilak Lake.
The EO reads, “The late-run king salmon fishery on the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulatory markers at the outlet of Skilak Lake is open from July 1 through July 31. Anglers will be allowed to retain king salmon in this fishery and may only use one, unbaited, single hook artificial fly or lure. “Single hook” means a fish hook with only one point (with or without a barb).
Harvest of king salmon of any size will be allowed in a portion of the lower Kenai River from its mouth upstream to department regulatory markers located approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek.
A limited harvest fishery for king salmon will be allowed from department regulatory markers located approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek, upstream to a department marker at the outlet of Skilak Lake from July 1 through July 14. In this portion of the river, during this timeframe, king salmon between 42 inches and 55 inches may not be retained. From July 15 through July 31, in this section, anglers may retain king salmon of any size but may still only use one, unbaited single hook artificial fly or lure.”
Breaking down the pieces of this EO to more fully understand the management plans for Kenai River early and late-run king salmon:
- First things first. The limited harvest fishery allowed from Slikok upstream to Skilak from July 1 through July 14 will be taking primarily early-run fish still present in the mainstem of the Kenai River. Radio tagging data from a series of years indicates that a significant percentage of the early-run is already in the tributaries or milling in the sanctuary areas designated at the mouths of Slikok Creek, the Funny River or the Killey River. The management objective for early-run Kenai River king salmon is an Optimum Escapement Goal (OEG) range of 5,300 to 9,000 fish. At the time this is written it looks like the total run for 2016 will be about 10,000 fish of which on a small number (less than 100) have been harvested. Only king salmon less than 42 inches or greater than 55 inches in total length may be retained. This size restriction is referred to as the “slot limit.” At this time, it appears that the total run of early-run king salmon, while below the long term average in number, is the largest observed since 2010 and with minimal harvest expected the escapement should come in right at the top of the OEG range.
- The Late-run Kenai River King Salmon Management Plan governs not only the late-run sport fishery but also elements of the Personal Use Fisheries, the Marine Sport Fishery and the commercial set net fishery in the Upper Subdistrict (East Side Set Net Fishery, ESSN). This management plan covers the time period from July 1 through July 31 in the sport fishery and to August 15 in the commercial set net fishery. The sport fishery takes place from the mouth of the Kenai River upstream to an ADFG marker located approximately 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek. The king slot limit does not apply during the late-fishery. The ADFG issued EO states, “The purpose of 5 AAC 21.359 Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan (a), is to ensure adequate escapement of late-run king salmon into the Kenai River. The sustainable escapement goal (SEG) for late-run Kenai River king salmon is 15,000 to 30,000 king salmon. As provided in 5 AAC 21.359 Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan (e) from July 1 through July 31, if the projected inriver run of late-run king salmon is less than 22,500 the Kenai River sport fishery may be restricted in order to achieve the sustainable escapement goal. Kenai River king salmon stocks are recovering from a period of low productivity and have been below average run strength since 2009. The 2016 preseason forecast for late-run Kenai River king salmon is for below average total run of approximately 30,000 fish. This is approximately half of the 1986 – 2015 average total run of approximately 56,000 fish and is insufficient to provide harvest in an unrestricted sport, commercial, and personal use fishery without jeopardizing attainment of the sustainable escapement goal. Commercial harvest of Kenai River late-run king salmon, in an unrestricted fishery managed under a Kenai River sockeye salmon run of over 4.6 million fish is projected to result in an inriver run of less than 22,500 king salmon. Therefore, prohibiting bait in the sport fishery is warranted.”
- What is not listed in this EO is that along with the prohibition of bait in the sport fishery downstream of the Slikok sanctuary is a prohibition on the retention of king salmon in the Personal Use fishery should the bait restriction still be in effect on July 10 when the Personal Use Fishery opens, area restrictions in the Marine Sport Fishery and that the ESSN Fishery will be limited to not-more-than 36 hours per week (normal is up to 110 hours). These are referred to as the “paired” restrictions and they were strongly supported by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association at the time of their adoption by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
- The aspects of this EO that apply to the late-run are warranted based on the pre-season outlook regarding the size of the run. Sonar data together with catch data from both the sport and ESSN fisheries will be collected daily. Usually by about July 10 ADFG has collected enough data in-season to adjust the regulations to better match the size of the run. We should expect the next changes, if any, to be announced on or about Friday, July 8. While the EO states that portion of the Kenai River upstream from the Slikok Creek sanctuary to the outlet of Skilak Lake will be open to fishing for late-run king salmon from July 15 through July 31, that decision will be subject to review based on data collected between now and July 15.