Kenai River King Salmon Escapement Goal Falls Short

During a summer of struggling king salmon runs throughout Alaska – and prompting multiple sport fishery closures – it’s probably not shocking that the Kenai River fell short of its king escapement goals. Here’s the Alaska Department of Fish and Game press release:

(Soldotna) — The preliminary 2022 estimated escapement for Kenai River late run king salmon is 13,952 large king salmon (fish ? 75cm mid eye to tail fork or ~ 34 inches in total length). The run was below the preseason forecast of 16,004. Despite significant management actions to reduce king salmon mortality in sport, personal use, and commercial fisheries, the run did not achieve the optimal escapement goal (OEG), the management target established by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, of 15,000 – 30,000 large fish. The final escapement did, however, achieve the sustainable escapement goal (SEG) of 13,500 – 27,000 large fish, likely only made possible due to the implemented restrictions to sport, personal use, and commercial fishing. Escapement of large fish is estimated by subtracting large king salmon harvested upstream of the sonar and adding fish that are spawning downstream of the sonar to the cumulative sonar count. 

Inseason assessment data suggest that the run was on-time and matched the historical mid-point of run timing on July 27. Sampling indicates 5-year fish (3 ocean) made up a larger proportion of the run than forecasted and the 6-year fish (4 ocean) were a smaller proportion than anticipated. Finalized harvest, run composition, escapement and total return data will be forthcoming this coming winter after post-season analysis is complete.

The 2022 late-run of king salmon to the Kenai River continued to exhibit low abundance due to poor overall production of the stock. in 2022. Fisheries began the season July 1 with the inriver sport fishery restricted to non-retention of king salmon and prohibiting bait and multiple hooks, personal use fishers were prohibited from retaining king salmon, and the commercial eastside setnet fishery was limited to 24-hours of fishing a week with reduced gear. Marine king salmon sport fisheries north of Bluff Point in Cook Inlet were also prohibited within 1-mile of shore. The Kenai River king salmon sport fishery was closed on July 17 when inseason projections of escapement indicated the OEG would not be achieved with continued direct and indirect mortality which, as directed by the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan, closed the commercial setnet fishery in the Upper Subdistrict and restricted the commercial drift gillnet fishery in the Central District. Fisheries remained closed and restrictions were further implemented on the inriver coho salmon fishery by prohibiting bait and multiple hooks through August 15.

The Department is aware of the impact restrictions and closures had to all uses. While painful, the restrictions allowed us to attain the SEG this year, and to begin to rebuild this stock, despite not attaining the OEG. Unless otherwise directed, the Department will continue to take the necessary conservation actions to achieve the OEG for this stock.

For further detailed inseason summary information please visit the link below:

So while the total escapement of more than 13,952 measurable fish did reach the “sustainable escapement goal” of at least 13,000, it still fell significantly short of the 16,000 and change goal ADFG biologists projected. Here are some more details from the Peninsula Clarion:

Current assessment by ADF&G shows that the king salmon run was on time and matched the July 27 historical midpoint of the run. Six-year-old fish made up a smaller proportion of the population than predicted, while 5-year-old fish made up more of the population than expected.

Lipka said that the distribution of ages for the fish population could shift slightly in the final numbers released this winter. For the preliminary reports, fish length is used as the indicator, as fish of the same age are generally the same size. Final numbers will use scale samples to age fish.

According to ADF&G, low numbers of king salmon on the Kenai River are a continuing consequence of “poor overall production of the stock.”