The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) forecast a record low return of Kenai kings in 2014, following a precipitous declining trend in numbers over the past ten years. Similar patterns have been seen throughout much of Alaska as king salmon have encountered a prolong period of unproductive ocean conditions.
Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) launched the Save our Kings initiative this past November aimed at Kenai king conservation measures to be enacted at the 2014 Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) meeting for Upper Cook Inlet. KRSA endorsed the changes that the BOF adopted to the Kenai River king salmon management plans that placed king conservation at the forefront of ADFG management actions.
This summer’s Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery results demonstrated the wisdom of the new management plans. Escapement goals for Kenai kings were achieved when dire forecasts proved accurate. Complementary step-down measures adopted for sport, personal use and commercial fisheries based on king numbers, helped share the conservation burden and avoid wholesale fishery closures like those that proved so disastrous in 2012 under the old management plans. At the same time, plan revisions afforded ample management tools for harvesting bountiful sockeye salmon returns and regulating their escapements. Painful restrictions were ultimately required for set net commercial and in-river sport fisheries which catch significant numbers of kings. However, putting the fish first by prioritizing minimum escapements will ensure the long-term health of this unique and precious resource and help avoid a prolonged slump in returns.
No management plan designed by people and implemented by government can be perfect and the BOF will inevitably examine current plans for further refinement. In the meantime, KRSA extends a heartfelt thank you to the BOF for their balanced and successful action for king conservation and ADFG for their effective implementation of these management plans under the most-trying of conditions.