There were no surprises with the low return on king salmon this summer, but the large sockeye return was unexpected, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game 2019 sport fish management area summary.
The report highlights each species and run around the Northern Kenai Peninsula, starting with the Kenai River early run, which had a below average outlook this year of 3,168 large fish (over 34 inches in length).
The low forecast caused the season to start with an emergency order prohibiting the retention of early-run king salmon, which continued through July 31, and allowed only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure.
“The estimated preliminary total in-river run of 4,188 fish was larger than the forecast but remained well below the historical average,” according to the report.
The outlook for the late run was also well below average, with a forecast of about 22,000 fish. The data showed that the escapement goal of 13,500 to 27,000 would not be met without restrictions, so on July 1 bate was restricted. Anglers were only allowed to harvest king salmon on the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to a marker about 300 yards from the mouth of Slikok Creek. This acted in conjunction with the early-run catch and release regulation.
Fish and game is approximating escapement at about 12,000.
Of the king salmon harvested from the late run, 47% were considered large fish and 49% were female.
The Kenai River sockeye salmon forecasted 3.8 million fish in the Kenai River this summer, with an escapement goal of 1.0 to 1.3 million. The preliminary sonar passage estimates 1.9 million sockeye passed through.
On the Russian River, the early-run escapement goal was set at 22,000 to 44,000 fish. On July 14, the weir count was 125,942 salmon, significantly exceeding the upper end of the escapement goal, according to the 2019 summary.
In response to the high numbers, Fish and Game opened the Russian River Sanctuary to sport fishing, increased to six fish per day and 12 in possession and then, five days later, subsequently increased to nine fish per day and 18 in possession.
The late-run escapement goal was between 30,000 and 110,000 fish. The Swan Lake Fire forced the evacuation of the Russian River field camp and weir, which was pulled on Aug. 18. At noon on Aug. 18 the weir had counted 64,585 salmon so far.