The 2019 Kenai River king salmon outlook is below average according to the state’s 2019 forecast.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released both the early- and late-run predictions for king salmon on Feb. 12 and called for a below average early run and a well below average late run.
The department is forecasting 3,168 large fish in the early run, meaning king salmon equal to or larger than 34 inches in total length.
“The 2019 forecasted total run of large fish is less than the optimum escapement goal of 3,900 to 6,600 fish and far below the 1986-2018 average total run of approximately 9,300 large fish,” according to a memo from the department.
If the outlook proves true, 2019 will be the fourth-lowest run in 34 years of records.
This year’s outlook is more conservative than 2018’s, which forecasted about 5,499 large fish, with an approximate actual total run of 3,072 fish, a difference of 44 percent, or 2,400 fewer fish.
The outlook for the late run is approximately 21,746 large fish. The department used this forecast to set a sustainable escapement goal of 13,500 to 27,000 fish.
If realized the 2019 late king salmon run will be the fourth lowest out of 34 years, be about 20 percent, or 4,000 fish, larger than 2018 preliminary estimates of 17,571 large fish, and be about half of the 1986 to 2018 average of about 44,000 large fish.
Last year, the department forecasted about 21,503 fish, while the Kenai River actually saw about 17,571 large fish — meaning that the Kenai River saw about 20 percent fewer fish.
The department has already responded to the poor outlook, restricting Kenai River early-run king salmon to catch and release only.
The department said that the restrictions are being implemented in hopes of protecting returning king salmon and ensuring fishing opportunities in the future.
Restrictions in the Kenai River drainage downstream of the Skilak Lake outlet will run from May 1 to July 31.
From May 1 to June 30, no king salmon of any size can be retained from the mouth of the Kenai River upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake.
Starting July 1, anglers will be able to retain king salmon from the mouth of the Kenai River up to a Fish & Game marker located about 300 yards downstream from Slikok Creek. Anglers may also use bait in this section, but only on a single hook lure or fly. Fishing will remain catch and release from the marker up to the Skilak Lake outlet.
“In an effort to protect our king salmon fishery resources, which are important to anglers and our fishery managers, and ensure our fishery management is consistent with the regulatory management plan, the early king salmon run on the Kenai River is restricted to non-retention in an effort to meet our 2019 early-run escapement goal,” stated Area Management Biologist Colton Lipka. “Anglers have noticed that the Kenai River king salmon and other king salmon stocks throughout Cook Inlet are experiencing an extended period of low productivity and restricting the fishery preseason is warranted.”
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.