In an attempt to boost the number of king salmon in Kenai Peninsula watersheds, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has restricted king salmon fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and prohibited sport fishing within one mile of the shore in the salt water between the Ninilchik River and Bluff Point.
Citing a below-average numbers of returning salmon, Fish and Game issued three emergency orders Wednesday which will go into effect on Friday, including catch-and-release measures on the Kenai, and catch-and-release of naturally-produced kings on the Kasilof River.
Robert Begich, Fish and Game area management biologist, said with 25 percent of the run complete, all of the indices used to assess the abundance of early-run kings in the Kenai River show a well below-average run.
An order prohibiting the use of bait on three portions of the Kenai river beginning July 1 is designed to further protect early-run fish, Begich said.
“We have closures around the tributaries that the early run spawn on,” he said. “The fish that have been entering in June are somewhere between the sonar station and where they’re going to end up spawning. In July, all those fish aren’t in their spawning tributaries or they aren’t in their sanctuaries so those early-run fish we’ll need for escapement, they’re still vulnerable to harvest.”
Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association, said restrictions on the tributaries have been effective in protecting kings in the past.
“That does put a hardship on users since that’s about two-thirds of the river that’s going to stay catch-and-release until mid-July,” he said. “That kind of adds to the congestion during those first two weeks in the lower part of the river.”
Restrictions on the Kenai River begin Friday and end July 14, unless another order is issued.
Also effective starting Friday and ending June 30, salmon between 20 and 55 inches in length must be released when fishing downstream of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway bridge, according an emergency order released by the department. Between July 1 and July 14, catch-and-release restrictions will be in place from approximately 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek, upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway bridge.
Bait will not be allowed while fishing on the Kenai from 300 yards downstream from the mouth of Slikok Creek, upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its junction with the Kenai River to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge beginning July 1 and ending July 14. Only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure may be used, according to the emergency order.
The Kasilof is being restricted to minimize the potential effect on the Crooked Creek sport fishery from other closures, according to an emergency order.
The Kasilof will be restricted from 12:01 a.m. Friday until 11:59 p.m. June 30. Hatchery-reared salmon are still acceptable to keep and are distinguishable from wild king salmon by their lack of a small, fleshy fin on their back between the dorsal fin and the tail fin.
“What people will see there is that it will be missing and there will just be a little bump there,” Begich said.
According to Fish and Game, the department tries to manage the fishery to reach an escapement goal between 650-1,700 naturally-produced kings.
The Cook Inlet saltwater sport fishery is also being restricted in an effort by the department to boost numbers on several river fisheries.
“We do know from tagging studies that king salmon from the Cook Inlet region have a higher probability of being caught close to shore,” said Tom Vania, an area regional management biologist from Anchorage. “The further out from shore you go the less likely you are to catch mature king salmon that are bound for Cook Inlet fisheries.”
Vania said an unusual number of the Kenai Peninsula streams were having difficulty reaching escapement goals, so the department decided to restrict the marine fishery.
“This is an expanded order to help all of those streams out,” Vania said.
Although many of the Kenai River-bound king salmon have already gone through the restricted area, Vania said there were indications the run may be a few days late, so the restriction was designed to protect stragglers.
Gease said the restrictions were appropriate given the counts of kings coming into the Kenai River.
“It’s been a cold, kind of wet, spring,” he said. “Hopefully some of the kings are just holding off shore.”
Gease said it would be interesting to see what will happen when the late run of kings comes into the river.
“It’s going to be a balancing act in July between this low king run and a fairly large expected return for sockeye salmon.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com.