Kenai River Salmon Surging Back

Photo by Earl Foytack

The Kenai River’s famed king salmon runs have taken a beating in recent years, resulting in shutdowns and more shutdowns and heavy restrictions. But as the Alaska Dispatch News  reports, prospects are looking up and regulations are being eased up.

Here’s ADN’s Mike Campbell with more:

In the midst of a strong early run of king salmon to the Kenai River, state biologists are allowing anglers to harvest larger Chinooks the rest of the month.

Effective at midnight Monday, anglers can take kings up to 46 inches; typically, that’s a fish of 35-40 pounds. So far this season, the limit has been 36 inches, about an 18-20 pound fish. The early run ends June 30.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists are attempting to rebuild the Kenai king run that has struggled for at least a decade.

As of Sunday, the sonar at river Mile 14 had counted 4,010 large kings. That’s already in the range of 3,900-6,600 fish biologists want to see escape anglers and reach their spawning grounds, largely in Kenai River tributaries.

If this run proves typical, about half of the kings should have passed the sonar by now.

But there’s a big difference between how biologists are counting this run compared to past years. Previously, the sonar counted kings of all sizes. This year, only kings 34 inches or larger are being tabulated. So how many smaller kings counted in previous runs are passing uncounted this year?

“I would say at least hundreds, probably thousands,” said Brian Marston, the area management biologist for Fish and Game. “You’re looking at several thousand by the time the run is done.”

Here’s the ADFG release on the new regulations:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) manages the Kenai River early-run king salmon run in order to achieve an escapement goal of 3,900 to 6,600 large king salmon. In order to help achieve the escapement goal, and rebuild the abundance of older and larger fish, ADF&G has increased the maximum size limit to less than 46 inches in waters below the markers at Slikok Creek.

As of June 11, 2017, approximately 4,010 large king salmon have been counted through the sonar site located at river mile 14. During normal run timing, 51% of the run would have passed the river mile 14 sonar site by this date. ADF&G currently projects that the run of large king salmon will be 7,870 fish. Even after taking into consideration the projected sport fish harvest above the sonar site, including catch-and-release mortality, the escapement goal of the early-run king salmon will exceed 7,660 large fish, which is well above the established goal. Abundance indices from ADF&G sport harvest creel and size distribution netting projects are also above average.

This size limit increase to king salmon less than 46 inches continues to protect the majority of the age 7 fish, while increasing harvest potential to help achieve the escapement goal. As per 5 AAC 57.160 Kenai River and Kasilof River Early-run King Salmon Management Plan the harvest of king salmon above the Slikok Creek markers shall remain limited to fish less than 36 inches.