While the Kenai River king salmon season officially ends Wednesday, certain fishing restrictions will be in place into August as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game attempts to protect fish still entering the river and those spawning during the next few weeks.
Beginning Thursday and extending through August 15, anglers are prohibited from using bait or multiple hooks while fishing in the lower Kenai River sport fishery.
As of July 29, the DIDSON sonar estimate of king salmon passage was just over 11,700 fish, well below the river’s sustainable escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 according to Fish and Game data.
Assistant Area Management Biologist Jason Pawluk said restricting the river in August to protect a run that ends by regulation in July was not normal, but had been put into place before.
“Last year, I believe, was the first year we had ever done anything in August regulation-wise to help protect king salmon,” he said.
In 2012, king salmon run was slow enough that the river was closed to targeted king fishing on July 19, however, managers said post-season that more than a quarter of king salmon run entered the river after the season officially closed.
According to fish and game data, the chinook salmon escapement estimate for last year was 25,587 fish, well within the escapement goal.
Pawluk said there were not yet any strong indications that the 2013 chinook salmon run could be coming in late.
“We just got off some really big tides that ended around this weekend and since then our netting numbers have picked up a little,” he said. “Our mixture model DIDSON sonar estimates haven’t been on the same level as they were last year at this time so, we’re seeing a little bit more fish right now (compared) to what we saw for the month of July so far, but is it on the same level as last year? No, and we’re not sure it will be. Time will tell.”
Many anglers will be targeting silver, or coho, salmon in August and while that type of fishing is different than targeting king salmon — coho can be fished from shore or an anchored boat, versus the back trolling typically required to successfully target kings — Pawluk said all any incidental harvest would be unacceptable.
“We’re still not projecting to meet the minimum escapement goal of king salmon so, therefore, every king salmon at this point in time is of importance to make it to the spawning beds and be able to spawn,” he said.
According to the media release, Fish and Game encourages anglers to practice “good sportsmanship” by avoiding fishing for coho salmon in areas of the river where king salmon are concentrated.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com.