Kings -- a much deeper rooted problem

Managing king salmon stocks on the Kenai River is not a job for the faint hearted. From 1980 to 1990 our Kenai River king runs were much more predictable than today.

The main reason these runs were more predictable then is because there were less humans attempting to intercept them back then. King salmon commercial by-catch issues back then were at a minimum as Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet commercial fisheries intercept factors were very low. By 1990 those commercial intercept factors began taking huge bites out of Alaska's extremely strong king runs. Commercial fisheries which had only been by-catching a few thousand kings annually suddenly exploded and began intercepting hundreds of thousands of these kings between 1980 and 2000. 

Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet commercial fisheries basically sell their king by-catch and Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska commercial fisheries kill their kings and throw them away dead back into the ocean. These Bering Sea and Gulf kings must be dumped dead because it is illegal to sell them. All of this basically comes down to hundreds of thousands of kings being annually removed from Alaska's saltwater before they have a chance to return and spawn within their home rivers and streams. Year after year of this ocean shredding of our king resource has had a tremendous cumulative effect thus resulting in the general suppression of all Cook Inlet king stocks.

It was in 2002 that these commercial by-catch factors first began having an effect on the Kenai River sportfish environment. That effect showed up as both first and second king runs began showing up late along with a size reduction. At first we noticed these runs only showing up a few days later than normal. Eventually the few days turned into weeks as our "second run king arrival" moved from the first week of July to the second and then even sometimes on into the third week. Occasionally our second run of kings would show up in the first or second week of July but in general the run had been destabilized and was very unpredictable by 2002.

Currently we are forced to expect our late run of kings to show up at just about anytime between July 1st - 25th. This run instability did not need to happen; it is the direct result of run-away commercial saltwater by-catch factors  These by-catch factors were also first noticed by fisheries managers in 2002 but few of them could convince themselves that our saltwater commercial fisheries were capable of such dramatic and far reaching run changes. Today we have modern fisheries managers who are "still unaware" of the history behind this delayed July king entry pattern on the Kenai River. These managers basically take a short-term view of this situation and interpret this wildly fluctuating entry pattern as some kind of recent event. Because these managers assume a freshwater king problem, they attempt to resolve the problem with only freshwater solutions. These chosen freshwater solutions are usually only freshwater sportfish restrictions. These fisheries managers are incorrectly applying freshwater fisheries solutions to a saltwater problem. This improper assessment/solution format then basically results in a delayed reaction to actually resolving the source saltwater problem. This incorrect problem solving can be compared to placing a bandage on cancer and somehow expecting the problem to go away. Using freshwater solutions to remedy saltwater problems creates even more problems as fisheries managers are lulled into a false sense of security, while they stop looking for real solutions.The end result of following this kind of a false logic and problem  solving, is that everyone stands around for years waiting for saltwater slaughtered kings to return to the freshwater.If a person desires evidence of what is happening here they need only view the results of decades worth's of king salmon freshwater restrictions on anglers in the Cook Inlet area. All of these extensive freshwater restrictions have resulted in fewer and fewer kings returning to Cook Inlet.

At this time Kenai River king salmon stocks require a fisheries manager with an extremely cool hand. The realization that our Cook Inlet king troubles are not freshwater based must dominate the solution debate and resulting regulatory changes. Most of our proposed king salmon, freshwater regulatory changes should be viewed for what they actually are, superficial camouflage for a much deeper rooted problem within the saltwater. It is not rational to continue assuming that short-term freshwater regulatory solutions will in anyway address this long-term saltwater king salmon problem.

Would you like ocean by-catch of king salmon to end? Sign the petition at


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