In this July 2016 photo, a fishing guide pilots a boat up the Kenai River near Soldotna. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Fish and Game restricts king salmon fishing on Kenai, Kasilof

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the changes to the Kasilof River king salmon fishery. As of Wednesday, the bag and possession limit for hatchery king salmon on the Kasilof River is one king salmon 20 inches or longer and to clarify the king salmon restrictions on the lower Kenai River.

Starting Wednesday, anglers on the Kenai River can’t keep king salmon and anglers on the Kasilof River can only keep hatchery kings.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued a set of emergency orders Monday with restrictions for king salmon fishing on the two rivers based on the low numbers of returning fish so far. No kings of any size can be kept between Wednesday and June 30 on the Kenai River between the mouth and Skilak Lake, and from July 1–15, the segment between a marker 300 feet downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek and Skilak Lake will remain closed to harvest.

Anglers can fish with one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure but kings cannot be removed from the water and must be released immediately.

On the Kasilof, anglers cannot keep a naturally produced king, which is a fish with an intact adipose fin. The emergency order limits the bag and possession limit for hatchery fish to one hatchery fish 20 inches or longer. Gear is limited to one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure.

One of the reasons for the restriction on wild kings is because of the restrictions on the Kenai River, according to the emergency order.

“(The Kenai River restrictions) will likely result in an increase in fishing effort and catch of king salmon on the Kasilof River,” the emergency order states.

The Kenai River restrictions are meant to hep push the early king run numbers toward the escapement goal of 3,900–6,600 large fish, or fish greater than 75 centimeters long (about 29.5 inches) from mid-eye to tail fork. As of Sunday, 1,609 large early-run kings had passed the sonar, less than half of the 3,726 total that had passed the sonar on the same date in 2017. The current inseason run projection is estimating 4,700 large kings to return to the river, based on an estimate that the run is three days late, according to the emergency order.

““Kenai River king salmon and other king salmon stocks throughout Cook Inlet are experiencing a period of low productivity and, since 2009, a below average run strength,” said Cook Inlet Management Coordinator Matt Miller in the emergency order. “As of June 10, 2018, an estimated 1,609 large king salmon have past the River Mile 13.7 king salmon sonar. Therefore, based upon the current inseason inriver run projections, it is warranted to reduce king salmon mortality until run projections solidify.”

All of the major king salmon fishing rivers on the western side of the Kenai Peninsula are now under king salmon restrictions. The Kasilof River is the only river where kings can be kept, with a bag and posssession limit of one fish per day greater than 20 inches long.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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