Fish and Game recommends big-fish Kenai king goal

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is recommending putting a big-fish goal in place for Kenai River king salmon.

In a Monday memo attached to the schedule for the Board of Fisheries’ upcoming Lower Cook Inlet meeting, which is set for Nov. 30–Dec. 3 in Homer, Fish and Game research biologists recommend implementing a big-fish goal for both the early and late runs of king salmon to the escapement goals on the river.

Under the recommendations, Fish and Game managers would have to achieve a sonar-based goal specifically for king salmon 33.3 inches or longer from mid-eye to fork. For early-run king salmon, the goal would be set at 2,800–5,600, and for late-run kings it would be set at 13,500–27,000, according to the memo. Big fish goals set a minimum number of fish that must meet a particular size requirement, not counting those that are smaller.

The current escapement goal for early-run king salmon is 3,800–8,500 fish of any size, and the late-run has a goal of 15,000–30,000 fish of any size. Both goals were adopted in 2013, according to the memo.

King salmon stocks in stream systems around the state have been declining both in size and numbers in recent years, including on the Kenai River. As previously reported by the Clarion, size decline has concerned and puzzled researchers, who have linked it to more young fish returning as the population of older age classes decreases. Older, larger fish have been shown to be more fertile as well as more desirable for fishermen.

The 33.3-inch length was selected because sockeye don’t typically reach that size, making it easier to distinguish kings from sockeye on the sonar images, said Tim McKinley, the regional research coordinator for the Division of Sport Fish in Anchorage. An Oct. 3 escapement goal memo submitted to the Board of Fisheries for a worksession held in Soldotna states that the finalized recommendations will be presented at the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage in Feburary 2017.

“In the Kenai River, fish of this size can be assessed more simply, accurately and timely,” the Oct. 3 memo states.

Fish and Game counts king salmon in the Kenai River using a sonar system supplemented by data from a test net. The sonar takes ultrasound images of fish passing through a particular section of the river in front of the sensor, and fish biologists can count the fish on the image transmitted to their computer screens.

There has been controversy over the accuracy of the sonar counts over the years. Fish and Game replaced its older Kenai River sonar systems in 2009 with the DIDSON system, which was again replaced in 2015 because of concerns about accuracy. The current system, the ARIS, counts salmon at river mile 14. Fish and Game has had concerns over the years about the accuracy of sonars because it’s difficult to distinguish fish species and sometimes river conditions get in the way.

Fish managers in other areas of the state have already begun using big-fish goals for kings. Ten of Southeast Alaska’s 11 king salmon goals are big-fish only goals, according to a 2014 Fish and Game Southeast Alaska escapement goal memo.

A committee of 35 Fish and Game staff from the various divisions of the department worked on the updates to the escapement goals, according to the Oct. 3 memo. The report with the full rationale is still being prepared before the meeting in February, according to the memo.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Rep. Don Young talks during a June 2021 interview with the Empire. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Young to face off with a Begich yet again

Young, 88, seemed unfazed by Begich’s entry into the race.

A remote galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope is greatly magnified and distorted by the effects of gravitationally warped space. (Image via NASA)
Grant brings NASA to library

The grant supports science, technology, engineering, arts and math programming for patrons.

A spruce bark beetle is seen on the underside of a piece of bark taken from logs stacked near Central Peninsula Landfill on Thursday, July 1, 2021 near Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
State urges driver caution at Bing’s Landing this week due to work

The work is part of the State of Alaska’s efforts to mitigate the spruce beetle outbreak on the Kenai Peninsula.

Ashlyn O’Hara / Peninsula Clarion 
A chicken eats kale inside of a chicken house at Diamond M Ranch on April 1 off Kalifornsky Beach Road. The ranch receives food scraps from the public as part a community program aimed at recovering food waste and keeping compostable material out of the landfill.
More food for the chickens

Central peninsula group awarded grant to expand composting efforts

The Little Alaskan children’s store is seen in Kenai on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. Located where Bargain Basement used to be in Kenai, the shop opened this weekend. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Little’ shop goes big

Little Alaskan occupies the space where Bargain Basement used to be in Kenai.

Nurses Melissa Pancoast and Kathi Edgell work shifts at the intesive care unit at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna on Sept. 22. October was the deadliest month so far for COVID-19 deaths at CPH, with 11 of 30 deaths that have taken place at the hospital since the beginning of the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Chief Nursing Officer Karen Scoggins)
‘The deadliest month we’ve had’

One-third of total COVID deaths at CPH took place in the last month.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Kenai Municipal Airport on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. A kiosk that will offer educational programming and interpretive products about the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is coming to the airport. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsua Clarion)
Wildlife refuge kiosk coming to airport

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge stickers, T-shirts, magnets, travel stamps and enamel pins will be available.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
5 more COVID deaths reported

The total nationwide fatalities surpass population of Alaska.

Most Read