With conservation of king salmon driving management of upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, it makes sense that managers have taken a conservative approach to the late run of Kenai River kings.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers issued emergency orders on Thursday that restrict anglers fishing for late run king salmon to unbaited, single-hook lures. An emergency order issued prior to the fishing season restricts late run king salmon fishing to the Kenai River downstream from a marker located downstream from Slikok Creek. Dipnetters on the Kenai River also will be prohibited from retaining king salmon caught in that fishery, which opens July 10.
Similar restrictions were put in place for the Kasilof River, which can see an increase in fishing pressure when conservation measures are enacted on the Kenai River. Bait restrictions on the Kenai River will trigger corresponding restrictions on the amount of fishing time available in the commercial fisheries.
According to Fish and Game, bait restrictions can cut anglers’ effectiveness in half, and closing the middle river to king salmon fishing will make it even tougher to catch a fish.
But, there’s still an opportunity for a determined angler to catch a king, and a small chance is better than no chance at all.
Fishery managers continue to try to balance low returns of king salmon, strong returns of sockeye, and pressures from competing user groups. In recent years, conservation measures have drawn criticism. Attitudes appear to be changing as those who depend on strong returns of fish are viewing the long-term recovery of the run as a priority.
King salmon numbers around Cook Inlet have been better this year than in the past few years. Through Thursday, the cumulative sonar estimate for the early run of Kenai River king salmon — which was closed to fishing entirely — was 5,534 fish, compared to an early run sonar estimate of 4,214 last year and 2,308 in 2014.
We’re hopeful that king salmon numbers will continue to improve in the years to come, and that there will be a time when the fishery will open without restrictions. But we also take a realistic view that it will take a number of years to address the issues impacting king salmon runs not just on the Kenai Peninsula, but around Alaska.
In the mean time, it is far better to start conservative and liberalize the fishery should the run be stronger than expected, than to open the fishery without restrictions and be forced to take drastic measures down the road.