Fishing for early run kings will be closed on the lower Kenai River and restricted on the Kasilof River for the 2016 season.
With a preseason forecast similar to 2015, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued emergency orders with the restrictions on Thursday.
Fishing for king salmon between the mouth of the Kenai River and Skilak Lake will be prohibited between May 1 and June 30. Between July 1 and July 31, fishing for kings will open on a portion of the lower river but remain closed between a Fish and Game marker 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake.
For May and June, catch-and-release fishing for kings is also prohibited on the Kenai River. Any king caught unintentionally cannot be removed from the water and must be released immediately.
The low number of early run kings projected for 2016 gave reason for the restriction, according to the emergency order. The projected run for early run king salmon is 5,209 fish, about 90 fish shy of the lower end of the escapement goal of 5,300-9,000 fish. Because the forecast is low, closing the fishery before the season begins is warranted, according to the emergency order.
This is the third year of preseason restrictions on early run king salmon fishing on the Kenai River. The king salmon stocks in the Kenai River and throughout Cook Inlet have seen below-average run strength since 2009, according to Fish and Game.
Because of the restrictions placed on the Kenai River, Fish and Game expects more sportfishing effort on the Kasilof River.
A second emergency order prohibits the retention of naturally produced king salmon in the Kasilof River except on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Sportfishing gear is also limited to one single-hook, artificial lure without bait while sport fishing between May 1 and June 30.
Hatchery king salmon also run in the Kasilof River. By regulation, possession of a king salmon that has been disfigured or filleted to prevent adipose finclip recognition before a fish has been offloaded from a boat or removed from the riverbank where the fish was hooked is illegal. Naturally produced king salmon have an intact adipose fin, which hatchery fish are identifiable by a smooth scar where the fin is clipped.
Fish & Game manages for an escapement goal of 650-1,700 naturally produced king salmon in the early run on the Kasilof, which are monitored through a weir at Crooked Creek.
Because of concerns about additional pressure on the river, Fish and Game also restricted fishing on the Kasilof River in the preseason last year.
During the season, the restrictions were loosened to allow one day of retention on naturally produced stock. This year, the preseason restrictions include two days on which retention is allowed.
“The emergency order to restrict the early run king salmon sport fishery on the Kasilof River during 2016 is a continuation of an incremental approach to maintain harvest opportunity while assuring the (escapement goal) of naturally-produced king salmon and stocking goals can be achieved as king salmon production may be progressing from low to average levels,” the emergency order states.
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