The upcoming subsistence gillnet fishery on the Kenai River can target sockeye, but kings are off limits.
An emergency Special Action of the Federal Subsistence Board closed the federal subsistence fishery for early-run chinook salmon in all federal public waters in the Kenai River downstream from the outlet of Skilak Lake beginning June 18 and lasting through Aug. 15. Chinook salmon are not to be targeted or retained, and must be released alive without being removed from the water. All subsistence fisheries, including rod and reel, dipnets, and community gillnets, are included.
The federal board made the emergency order on June 17, and federal in-season manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Jeff Anderson, confirmed that it remains in effect for the late run of Kenai River kings.
The gillnet for the Ninilchik Traditional Council was approved by the Federal Subsistence Board in January despite state and federal biologist objections to the indiscriminate nature of a gillnet in a time of low abundance for chinooks.
The federal emergency order follows Alaska Department of Fish and Game orders for the Kenai River, which had closed the sport fishery for chinook until June 30 in the entire river and from regulatory markers downstream of Slikok Creek, upstream to Skilak Lake through July 31.
Previously, the Ninilchik Traditional Council had been allowed to harvest 1,000 chinook salmon.
Whether or not the salmon would survive being released from the gillnet will depend in large part on how the net is managed by the Ninilchik Traditional Council. Those details will be included in the operational plan the council has provided to Anderson.
Anderson said he will not discuss the operation plan while he is still working on it, though he did say that he has not yet begun working on the Kenai River operational plan and is still focusing on the plan for the Kasilof River gillnet.
The survival rate of a salmon released from an in-river gillnet varies wildly, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff. Adam Reimer conducted a study involving the tagging of salmon caught in gillnets.
Factors of gillnet survival include proximity to salt water and the gillnet mesh size. The most important factor, Reimer said, was the length of time a fish spent caught in the net.
“How long they sit in the net could make all the difference in the world,” said Reimer. “If they’re in that net for any period of time, it could drop the survival rate down to nothing.”
DJ Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.