On Saturday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game limited anglers fishing the late run of Kenai River king salmon to catch-and-release fishing and, in a new conservation measure for the state, fishing with barbless hooks.
The barbless hooks requirement is the latest in a series of fishing restrictions that include slot limits to protect certain vulnerable segments of the yearly returns, catch-and-release fishing, prohibitions on bait and sanctuaries on the river designed to protect spawning king salmon.
The new barbless hook regulation will make it easier for the struggling king salmon to slip a hook and, as Fish and Game staffers testified during a recent Board of Fisheries hearing on the issue, disproportionately affect the catching efficiency of young and inexperienced anglers.
Fish and Game regional management coordinator Matt Miller called the barbless hook regulation an allocation among anglers, not just user groups.
Disproportionate or not, it’s time to change our attitudes toward the Kenai River’s king salmon runs.
It’s time to rebuild the mythos surrounding the Kenai king salmon, perhaps to something more resembling the river’s rainbow trout fishery where barbless hook fishing is common. Anglers shouldn’t come to the Kenai River assuming they’re going to hook a king salmon. The fish should be difficult to catch, a true test of sportfishing prowess and a draw for anglers looking to challenge themselves to a higher level of fishing.
If personal-use fishermen must leave the fish in the water and commercial fishermen face increasingly restrictive fishing opportunity — the onus should be upon sport anglers, the only ones targeting the fish, to cultivate a fishery in which a caught king is a rare prize. And not just because there are so few of them, rather because the effort and skill required to land one is so great.
Whether the Kenai’s king salmon runs are weak or strong, it’s time for a radical change in the perception of king salmon fishing on the river. Making it the first in the state to require barbless hooks when catch-and-release fishing, is a step in that direction.
We hope it results in further protection for the few remaining fish forecasted to return to the river this year while still giving determined anglers a chance, however slight, to have a Kenai River fish tale worthy of a king.