Peninsula Clarion By Rashah McChesney June 26, 2015
Anglers will soon be able to target Kenai River king salmon, but with restrictions.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday released a batch of emergency orders designed to allow limited king salmon fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.
In July, anglers must fish no-bait and on a single hook.
The restriction is in place on the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to the Fish and Game marker at the outlet of Skilak Lake. While the river is restricted to no bait from Skilak Lake down, fishing for late run king salmon will only be allowed from a Fish and Game regulatory marker downstream of Slikok Creek to the river mouth. This is the fifth consecutive year that Fish and Game area managers have closed king salmon fishing on 32 miles of river downstream of Skilak Lake. The closure is from river mile 50 to river mile 18, or about 60 percent of the river that’s open to king salmon fishing in regulation.
To justify the restrictions, sportfishing managers cited the 2015 preseason forecast of 22,000 fish in the late run of Kenai River king salmon.
The escapement goal range that managers attempt to reach with the late run of Kenai king salmon is 15,000-30,000 fish.
Soldotna area sportfish management biologist Robert Begich said a total run of 22,000 fish leaves just 7,000 Kenai River king salmon available for harvest between all commercial, sport and personal-use fishermen in the Cook Inlet who could conceivably catch the fish.
“If (the run) is realized, it would be really hard to make the escapement with unrestricted harvest,” he said.
Typically, when Kenai River king salmon anglers are restricted to no-bait and a single hook, it cuts their effectiveness in half, Begich said. However, with the additional restrictions on the area of the river available for fishing, that number is likely to be much higher.
Also in the Kenai River, personal-use dipnetters will be prohibited from keeping any king salmon that they catch. That fishery opens July 10 and runs through the end of the month.
On the Kasilof River, anglers will not be able to use bait or multiple hooks from the river’s mouth upstream to the Sterling Highway Bridge for the entire month of July.
During the Kasilof River’s early run of king salmon, managers aim to hit a target of between 650-1,700 naturally-produced king salmon in the river. As of June 24, just 289 non-hatchery king salmon had been counted at the river’s weir on Crooked Creek, according to a Fish and Game media release. That low number may prevent hatchery managers from being able to take eggs for brood stock in 2015.
Managers justified the restrictions with the assertion that restricted king salmon fishing on the nearby Kenai River would likely cause more fishing pressure on the Kasilof River, according to the release. Begich a conservative start on the late run king salmon fishing may avoid further restrictions later in the month.
“Since it’s going to be a low run, we’ve forecasted a low run, we’re giving the best chance that we have to have a fishery for the whole month of July,” he said.
The restrictions to sportfishing for king salmon on the Kenai River triggers restrictions in the commercial setnet fishery on the east side of Cook Inlet. Setnetters will be capped at 36 hours per week of fishing time beginning July 1. If the in-river fishery is further restricted to catch and release, setnetters will be limited to one 12-hour period per week.