Brace yourselves — they’re coming.
For folks watching the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar estimates on the Kenai River, it’s been an exciting week. King salmon are entering the Kenai River in greater numbers than they over the past seven years, and managers are considering easing some of the fishing restrictions placed on the late run.
And folks keeping an eye sockeye numbers have seen a big pulse of fish already enter the river since Fish and Game started counting on July 1 — an estimated 136, 549 as of Wednesday, compared to 45,672 on the same date last year.
That’s great news here on the central Kenai Peninsula. A healthy return of salmon gives a boost to our local economy, and this one comes at a time when the oil industry is in a slump.
With the big return of salmon, however, will come a big influx of visitors to our area with their sights set on catching them. In particular, the Kenai River personal-use fishery opens Sunday, and undoubtedly, Alaskans from all over the state are loading up dipnets and coolers and headed our way.
Kenai city staff already have been busy preparing for dipnetters. Pay shacks, gates, Dumpsters and porta-potties are being put in place on the north and south beaches and at the city’s boat launch.
If you haven’t already, the rest of the central peninsula’s residents should make similar preparations — figuratively, at least, if not literally. Roads already are busy with a mix of summer traffic and construction; they’re about to get busier. So will stores, parking lots, and just about anywhere else that people think they might be able to catch a fish.
The crowds can be a little frustrating, especially for those of us who have been here long enough and look back with nostalgia to days when you could go down to the beach and all you had to wade into was the water, not an elbow-to-elbow crowd.
Those days are gone, but their are some benefits. Certainly, the thousands of visitors will need at least a few sundry items from local merchants. And while management of the beaches during the fishery is more or less a break-even venture, the city of Kenai is able to employ a seasonal workforce for the summer.
We hope those coming to Kenai for the fish remember that they are guests in our back yard, and treat the beaches and dunes with respect.
And for residents, we hope you can do your best to grin and bear it — and look forward to Aug. 1, when we’ll have the beach back to ourselves.