Forecast shows both Kenai king runs within escapement goals

This June 2016 photo shows a king salmon caught in a personal-use set gillnet on the beach north of the mouth of the Kasilof River near Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) In this July 24, 2016 file photo, a guide boat motors upstream on the Kenai River near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Rashah McChesney, file)

This June 2016 photo shows a king salmon caught in a personal-use set gillnet on the beach north of the mouth of the Kasilof River near Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion) In this July 24, 2016 file photo, a guide boat motors upstream on the Kenai River near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Rashah McChesney, file)

The early and late runs of Kenai River king salmon are projected to be within the escapement goals for 2018, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s forecasts.

The forecasts, released Monday, estimate 5,499 large kings in the early run — defined as king salmon that enter the river before June 30 — and 21,503 kings in the late run. Both are within their optimum escapement goals, though significantly lower than the actual run numbers observed in 2017. Because they’re within the escapement goals, both runs will open under general fishing regulations, according to the announcement.

The projection for the early run falls close to the mid-point of the optimum escapement goal of 3,900–6,600 king salmon larger than 34 inches, a counting change Fish and Game implemented in 2017. Though the fishery management plan states that if the projection is within the escapement goal, the fishery will open with general regulations, managers can change the rules based on in-season data by emergency order, depending on how many fish actually show up.

The late run is also around the midpoint of the optimum escapement goal of 13,500–27,000 large kings. The late run starts after July 1 each year.

Both projections are less than the total runs counted in 2017. Final counts showed 6,561 large kings in the early run final escapement. Managers estimated a total of 7,500 kings entered the river, more than the preseason forecast of 6,500, according to Fish and Game’s final inseason run summary for early run Kenai River kings. Managers estimated that approximately 28,000 large kings returned in the late run, below the preseason forecast of 33,000 fish but still within the escapement goals.

Both runs were significantly greater than in the past five years, and fishermen were allowed to retain king salmon throughout both seasons.

King salmon projections and regulations hold implications for the inriver sportfishery as well as the commercial set gillnet fishery along the eastern side of Cook Inlet. When managers restrict the gear and harvest rules for sportfishing for king salmon, setnetters are not allowed to fish as many hours as they would under regular conditions.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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