For years everyone who spent very much time on the Kenai River fishing for kings knows our king salmon runs have been on the decline. Every year the optimist in us hopes we have seen the bottom and each year will get better. After what we have seen this year we have to be more proactive in getting more Kenai River king salmon back to the spawning beds. We can't control what happens while these kings are out in the marine life, but we can be instrumental in building these runs back to what they once were. This will take all user groups being proactive and forward thinking to build these runs back to previous high levels so we will have a viable "World Class" fishery. Save the special Kenai River king salmon, and provide the economic boost for tourism that our communities have enjoyed in the past, not to mention the excitement of catching these giants.
Through the Board of Fish process some have worked hard to put in place measures that have helped such as spawning closures, higher escapement goals, and then through this same process restrictions have been imposed on the sport fishermen to slow down harvest of these kings. Restrictions include cutting guide hours, cutting guide days, single hook usage, no bait or scents, catch-and-release, and total closure. Some regulations in the salt water have helped and will continue to help if followed, for example, commercial fishing closures "windows" that help pass fish into the river, redefining the fishing corridor for drift gillnets, and decoupling the Drift Fleet and the Set Net Fishermen. The inner setnets along the beach have the largest impact on kings returning to the rivers of their origin.
If all user groups would put their heads together, be proactive and forward thinking, we could solve some of these complex issues regarding the declining Kenai River king salmon.
It is better for the industry leaders to take corrective action that makes sense and will have less impact on their business. Having one user group closed while another user group targets the same fish is not responsible management of our Kenai River king salmon. For example, one early season opening for the Eastside commercial setnets fishery will catch more Kenai River king salmon than what we will save by the current Kenai River king salmon closure.
We simply need more kings in the River! The fish have to come first!