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Early run king fishery closed

Further restrictions in place for late run, Kasilof king fisheries

Posted: June 20, 2012 - 8:46am
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M. Scott Moon
Arthur Smith and his wife, Jan, look Tuesday afternoon at a mount of Les Anderson’s world record king salmon on display at the Soldotna Visitor Center. For some anglers, the visitor center might be the closest they come to a Kenai River king salmon this month.

Facing the prospect of the lowest run on record, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued further emergency restrictions on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in an attempt to bolster the number of early run king salmon that make it back up the river to spawn.

The Kenai River, from its mouth upstream to Skilak Lake, will be closed to king salmon fishing beginning Friday through the end of the early run on June 30 as Fish and Game tries to meet its minimum escapement goal.

Current estimates show the run to be predicted between 4,000 to 4,100 kings, well below the minimum goal of 5,300 set by the department.

Robert Begich, area fisheries biologist in the sport fish division of Fish and Game, said the run numbers could be even lower as the department's prediction doesn't take into account the number of fish already harvested on the Kenai river.

"Nothing in 2012 has been good about Cook Inlet king salmon," Begich said. "All the runs are very slow."

Currently department estimates show a sport harvest of 317 fish according to the creel survey which measures the harvest below Soldotna, putting the predicted run of kings around 3,500.

In addition to the closure of the Kenai River to sport fishing for early run kings the emergency orders:

* Prohibit all sport fishing for king salmon, including catch-and-release fishing, in the waters of the Kenai River from the Fish and Game marker about 300 yards downstream of 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 beginning July 1 through July 14.

* Ban the use of bait beginning July 1 from the mouth of the Kenai River to the Fish and Game marker located at 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. Only one, unbaited single-hook, artificial lure may be used.

* Ban the use of bait and multiple hooks on the Kasilof River fishery.

While the new emergency orders for the Kenai supercede previous emergency orders, the previous restriction to the Kasilof River fishery still stands; it allows people to keep only hatchery-reared king salmon, indentifiable by a clipped adipose fin, regardless of their size.

Begich said restricting the late-run with a bait prohibition was a first for the department.

"There is a dual benefit for this action," Begich said. "It'll help those lower fish that will be in that river below the Slikok Creek and it'll reduce exploitation or harvest of the late run fish until the department knows that we've got enough in that run to proceed with the second part of the fishery."

Dwight Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition and a private angler, said the coalition supports the restrictions based on how slow the run has been.

Kramer said going to no-bait in July would help protect the early run spawners which don't actually spawn into well into the late run season.

Ultimately Kramer said the coalition supported restrictions on the river because the long-term implications of a shortage of kings were unacceptable.

"We know that there's something going on that's causing the kings all over to be low in the Kenai," Kramer said. "We can help ourselves as much as we can with restrictive actions so that we get the maximum amount that we can on spawning."

Kramer said there were other restrictions he'd like to see put into place to protect Kenai River kings including more protection zones for spawning kings.

He said he didn't think enough protection was offered for the main-stem spawners, or those that don't leave the Kenai River to spawn in one of its tributaries.

"I'm happy they're taking a precautionary approach," he said.

Dave Goggia, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association and owner of Hooky Charters, said he wasn't surprised by the restrictions as the association meets with Fish and Game every week to keep track of how the run is going.

Goggia said he appreciated the department's "step-down" approach of restricting the late-run to no-bait instead of closing it off to king fishing altogether.

"If it wasn't for that than it might have been catch-and-release and that's harder for our clients to accept," he said. "So no-bait we see that as a good first step in trying to cut down harvest," he said.

Begich said the department estimates that not allowing fisherman to use bait reduces the harvest by more than 50 percent.

Several guides said they had been expecting further restrictions based on observation alone.

"Guides are the first ones on the river that realize that we've got issues and something needs to happen," Goggia said. "We're out there every day and see what's going on so we knew that there weren't the numbers of fish that should have been there."

Goggia said despite the association's support of Fish and Game restrictions, there would still be a lot of suffering among guides due to these restrictions.

"There will be folks going out of business because of this," Goggia said. "It is going to be painful."

Tyland Van Lier, owner of Alaska Fishing and Lodging in Soldotna, said he was already feeling the economic squeeze from in-river restrictions.

"I was in the negative last year," he said. "I'm booked solid except for the 30th of June and I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm giving back money, I've got people cancelling."

He said he was hoping Fish and Game would keep the Kenai river on catch-and-release so his clients would still have a chance to try for the famed kings.

"The opportunity just to be able to get on the river is what we prayed for," Van Lier said. "A lot of people think you've got to kill something to bring people here but it's not that. What I'm selling them is opportunity. Not to kill anything, just the opportunity."

According to the department's media release, the extremely low abundance of kings meant it "could not justify the additional mortality associated with catch-and-release fishing."

Van Lier said he was a year-round resident of Soldotna whose livelihood was tied up into the health of the river.

"I fish around 140 to 145 days a year, clear to the middle of October," he said. "This is 100 percent what I do for a living. I don't do anything else. This is it."

Despite the pressure of having to explain to clients that they won't have a chance at kings until the late run, Van Lier said he was more concerned with the effect on the community when business for guides was shut down.

"When I book a vacation everybody wins. They're eating at restaurants in town, they're buying tackle. When they're not here, they're not buying a hamburger at Buckets, they're not going to Fred Meyer to get their groceries," Van Lier said. "My cabins are empty and when they are, it's a community effect."

Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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kenai-king 06/20/12 - 09:32 am
Not really closed sounds good though

It's too bad they didn't shut the whole river down. They are still going to them fish in the lower river gauntlet where all the guides will be and now everybody else. This is a half heartedly thing to do it needs to be completely shut down.
Oh wait a minute let them keep fishing kill all the Kings and then we will be happy :)

northernlights 06/20/12 - 12:11 pm
It's a good start

It should of been closed down years ago but the fighting for money out weighed the health of the river and fish. Now is better than later. It's time all of us who live here to take control of the health of the river banks. Remind your family and those you see on the rivers fishing. Pack out what you pack in, all garbage and fishing line. Number one, stay off the vegetation! that is absolutley critical, healthy vegetation is a healthy river. When the banks errode the dirt covers fish eggs, destroys hiding areas for the fry, causes pollution, our rivers need plants, grass and trees. They filter polution so when you see anyone walking off the trails remind them to stay off. Dont throw your gear, backpacks and coolers on the bank. tickets will be issued for doing this. All personal items must be on you or within 3feet. When ridding of fish carcasses, make sure to cut them up small and throw them in the fast moving currents. Be bear wise. The bears in Cooperlanding are trained to come at you and have your fish handed over to them. Keep your fish on a stringer, if a bear comes, you either cut the line, or grab your fish and go, Dont give it to the bears. Tell people to stay off the sand dunes and stay only in designated areas. Remide people to take their trash with them. Leave no trace. We love where we live and we love the rivers. I am guilty for having destroyed many river banks, not knowing the value and what a critical role they play in healthy fish. I know now. Together we can make a difference. There will always be those who hate changes and hate to be told what to do. We are not responsible for thier actions, we are responsible to speak the truth. It takes you and me to make a difference and to keep our rivers and banks healthy

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 06/20/12 - 04:49 pm
Bears are like humans now,

Bears are like humans now, all trained to look for handouts and take what they want if not given freely. This mentality of sharing equally or taking from others and of people having the rights to do as they wish even when reality shows that it's a bad End Game for doing so, and as a result is what has drained the Kenai of King salmon.
The desire to increase commerce from the Kenai fishing is a major problem and business owners have applied much pressure to keep that Tourish $Dollar$ flowing at any cost. I guess we are lucky in that we still can catch 2 halibut here HUH?
The overrunning of the Kenai by bears is also a result of tourists wanting to see bears on the Kenai and we get to suffer from that money making plan & continual lie of we don't have a bear problem and must also deal with this as well after the tourists are gone, just like the NO FISHING signs posted everywhere now thanks to the lure of the almighty $Dollar$ we are seeing bear warning signs. Signs, Signs, everywhere are Signs, but no one sees the Signs and the troubles coming thanks to all those that continue to lie about reality and the warnings of troubles that could be avoided if only we would read the SIGNS.
In the End everyones sins will find them out & reveal the bad choices we have made, mine sure have & must all live with it's effects on us as wellas others. This desire for tourist $Bucks$ is one of those sins and the results of them are coming to pass. Economics world wide are in trouble and this is not a good thing for anyone on the Kenai and i feel it's gonna get worse inspite of those that keep up the lies of everythings gonna be OK, when in fact we all can see it's not gonna be ok and even that it's gonna get worse at every turn.
Well at least we don't have to be worried about that empty multimillions $Dollar$ Visitor center that some were smart enough to vote down, they probably read the SIGNS.

keeneye 06/20/12 - 08:03 pm
"Bears are like humans now,

"Bears are like humans now, all trained to look for handouts." Isn't it ironic though, that the government has trained us humans to look for the handouts and will put you in jail for feeding bears!?

cbeard 06/21/12 - 11:14 am

There is too much fishing. PERIOD. Wild salmon runs were always plentiful in ancient times because they never had the thousands of rich tourists with second homes come and dry up the salmon beds. There are just too many people for the rivers, and they all say the same thing "It's part of my lifestyle/It's my living/It's what we always do"

That's not an excuse anymore. It's time for drastic permitting limits. How about a Peninsula residents only season for a couple years?

alaskanni 06/21/12 - 11:54 am

cbeard, I'll go for ALASKA residents only for a few years but just because you live on the Peninsula doesn't give you personal rights to the river and fish.

kenai-king 06/26/12 - 06:21 am

So what would be the difference between Peninsula fishing the Kenai and the Teir 2 hunting permits for Caribou.

kenai123 06/28/12 - 03:50 pm
Where have all the kings gone?

The average anglers fishing Cook Inlets rivers and streams today will pack up their gear and head out with high hopes of landing a bunch of giant king salmon.
That angler will then return home with the sobering reality that it is much more difficult to catch a king today than it used to be. If they do the research they will eventually come across the records of how king fishing used to be. The story may take many twists and turns but it comes down to a tale of who got the fish. We had a lot of kings in Alaska waters just after World War 2. During this period there was a low point in both commercial and sport fishing thus allowing our salmon resources to blossom. Once those runs reached great abundance they caught the attention of both local and foreign fisheries. Back then the U.S. had a three-mile territorial limit which allowed foreign fisheries to basically come in and curtain off our nursery rivers and streams with trawlers and gillnets. All the commercial effort basically wiped out our salmon so we stopped our own commercial fishing effort prior to 1976 and ended the foreign fishing rip-off with the Magnuson Steven Fisheries Act of 1976. The Act effectively expanded the three-mile limit into a 200 mile U.S. Economic Zone which greatly reduced foreign commercial fishermen from accessing our returning salmon stocks.
The local and foreign shut-down was very successful and from around 1979 to 1995 we again began to allow our commercial fisheries to start fishing again as we experienced huge returns of king and silver salmon on the Kenai River and Cook Inlet. We did not know it at the time but the removal of the foreign and local commercial fishing fleets resulted in our Cook Inlet salmon actually being allowed to somewhat freely migrate back to their home rivers and streams. We could go out fishing on the Kenai River for kings at this time and see ten to twenty kings swirl to the surface when making a single drifting pass on a hole. It was not unusual to go out king fishing in July and have four to five persons in a boat limited out
within a couple hours and most of that time was spent landing giant kings, which fought for at least twenty to thirty minutes each. The fishing was fantastic, runs came in early, peaked and remained strong until the end of the month or were closed by regulation.
As the commercial gillnets increased in and around Cook Inlet, we began to notice run slippage. At first it was just a slight delay of only a few days, which was quickly made up for later when the main body of the runs arrived. Each year from 1995 - 2005 resulted in these runs arriving a few day later.
By 2002 commercial trawlers, seiners and gillnets had increased so much in and around Cook Inlet that many people began noticing a reduction in the size of giant Kenai kings along with their late arrival. The first reaction was shock as the ADF&G began reading off the record of what was happening to the first run of Kenai kings. The Board of Fish and the public scrambled and arrived at their solution, which was to severely restrict freshwater fisheries in an attempt to make up for the losses. At this time I personally began researching the bycatch figures of Kodiak commercial fisheries guarding the entrances to Cook Inlet, which by the way begin commercial fishing June 5th each year.
I was astounded as to the dramatic increase in Kodiak area commercial fisheries bycatch of king salmon. Kodiak commercial seine and gillnet fisheries which had previously reported only a bycatch of a few thousand kings annually in 1980 suddenly soared to a bycatch of 20,000 - 30,000 kings annually by 2002. At the same time the Bering Sea commercial fishermen were bycatching 30,000 - 40,000 kings annually and then those bycatch figures rocketed to 100,000 - 120,000 kings annually. These are kings which are illegal to keep so they are just thrown overboard DEAD. At the same time king bycatch figures within the Gulf of Alaska also began soaring from 20,000 kings annually to 50,000 kings and most of this was kings being dumped over the side DEAD because they were either targeting other stocks or illegal to keep. During this time just twenty commercial boats from King Cove and Sand Point near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula averaged a bycatch of 3.4 king salmon per metric ton of Pollock. These guys estimated that they obtained this bycatch of about 24,878 kings in just twelve days of fishing. 20,000 kings is enough salmon to fuel Cook Inlets entire annual sportfishery and would result in 30 - 40 times more revenue to the state than if those fish had actually been delivered to commercial markets. Unfortunately most of those kings never even made it to any markets because they were dumped over the side DEAD. A smaller amount of commercially gillnetted king bycatch makes it to
commercial fisherires markets but the vast majority of Alaska's king bycatch is dumped DEAD. Some may think this waste of fish is so offensive that someone would have noticed these changes, well some of us did notice and we tried to generate the attention the situation deserved but many people would not look at what was right before their eyes. It was not until Gulf of Alaska king bycatch figures began soaring to over 40,000 - 60,000 kings annually, when that happened it caught the attention of Lower 48 fisheries managers. These managers had endangered king stocks from the Upper Willamette and lower Columbia rivers which are known to swim the waters of the Gulf of Alaska. When they caught wind of these huge king bycatch numbers they also began to ask questions like we have been asking since 2002.
So what has resulted from all of the bycatch questions and revelations?
In 2009 the North Pacific Council finally attempted to do something about the uncontrolled king bycatch spiral, they voted to stop the Pollock fishing when they hit a bycatch of 60,000 kings in the Bering Sea. In 2011 the North Council voted for a 25,000-king cap on the Gulf of Alaska king bycatch. So theoretically if the Pollock fleet in the Gulf of Alaska passes the 25,000-king bycatch limit, the fishery will be shut down. The Gulf of Alaska 2010 fleet killed more than 51,000 king salmon as bycatch, an all-time high. You can use your imagination as to what has been happening out there since.
These are only caps on the commercial king bycatch, they cannot even hope to repair the long term damage which has been done to our king stocks. Even if this king bycatch problem were totally eliminated today it would take a minimum of 10 - 20 years to recover from this kind of wholesale slaughter.
But to answer the question of "Where have all the kings gone?" Commercial bycatch figures on king salmon have gone from next to nothing to monstrous numbers, while the State of Alaska has been assuming that it's a natural statewide lack of abundance of king salmon resulting from excessive freshwater angling. This incorrect assumption fueled extensive freshwater fisheries restrictions and forced those fisheries to give up fish allocations which they could not afford to give up. The vast majority of these missing king salmon were dumped DEAD over the side by the commercial fishing industry and now blissfully drift among the ocean currents. So the answer is really much more simple than you may have been led to believe. Most of these kings have not gone anywhere, most remain where they were caught, killed and dumped DEAD. This is not a complex naturally low abundance of king salmon issue. It is a simple low abundance of wise fisheries managers WHO ARE ABLE to address fisheries bycatch problems at the saltwater source rather than the freshwater symptoms.

kenai123 06/29/12 - 10:51 pm
throwing away our kings........

Why are commercial fishermen throwing away our kings DEAD? Why are we purchasing ADF&G king stamps just to have a commercial fisherman kill our kings and dump them?
Our trawl fisheries, our governor and our ADF&G Commissioner are all screaming to be allowed to continue killing our kings and throw them over board DEAD.
Our ADFG Commissioner and governor are both currently advocating for the historic average of kings caught as bycatch to be dumped DEAD thus allowing this unbelievable king by-catch issue to continue. Isn't it about time for a King Salmon Revolt? Alaskans need to hold their governor and ADF&G Commissioner accountable.
We all need to take a stand against throwing away our Alaska King Salmon Resource. Our governor and commissioner are both advocating for us to continue throwing our kings away DEAD. A 25,000 king-cap bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska is unacceptable. A 60,000 king-cap bycatch in the Bering Sea is unacceptable. Does anyone really believe that we can hope to rebuild our decimated kings runs with these commercial fisheries tearing up our ocean like this? The reason these trawl fisheries are forced to throw kings away, is so that they can't sell them and make a profit. The logic here is that if they were able to keep and sell bycatch,
that would incentivize them to "accidentally" catch a bunch of kings. If these trawl fisheries were required to process those fish and donate them to a food bank or something, the incentive would be opposite. We should do the same as we do with big game guides as they are forced to salvage the meat off the bears or anything else.
If you are going to kill something in the ocean, you have a duty to use it. If you want to use the ocean as your private ranch and sell billions of little fish sticks, that's fine but part of the deal is that someone has to eat what you catch and you cannot waste our common fisheries heritage. You either eat it or someone eats what you catch or we stop you from fishing period. It might be old-fashioned but that is the way it should always be.

Contact Alaska Governor Sean Parnell or Cora Campbell the ADF&G Commissioner at the below information.

Governor Sean Parnell
P.O. Box 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001
Phone (907) 465-3500
Fax (907) 465-3532

Anchorage Office
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1700
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone (907) 269-7450
Fax (907) 269-7461

Fairbanks Office
675 7th Avenue, Suite H5
Fairbanks, AK 99701-4596
Phone (907) 451-2920
Fax (907) 451-2858

Washington DC Office
444 North Capitol NW, Suite 336
Washington, DC 20001-1512
Phone (202) 624-5858
Fax (202) 624-5857


Cora Campbell, ADF&G Commissioner
P.O. Box 115526
Juneau, Alaska 99811
Phone: (907) 465-6166 - Fax: (907) 465-2332

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