Fewer older kings headed for Kenai

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Trophy king salmon -- back to fresh water after five years on the high seas -- will be in shorter supply this summer on the Kenai Peninsula, a state fisheries biologist said Wednesday.

There is a downward trend in the number of early run chinook in the oldest age class, state fisheries biologist Tim McKinley told the Alaska Board of Fisheries, meeting in Anchorage through Feb. 20.

He said fewer really large chinook, those that have spent five years in the ocean, are expected to return in the late Kenai River run.

McKinley was one of several Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff addressing the state board, which will consider numerous issues affecting upper Cook Inlet fisheries. Public testimony was scheduled for Thursday.

''We don't consider this a problem, because we've gotten returns like this back before,'' McKinley said. ''It was below average last year.''

He said there are still enough fish to make escapement goals.

The decline in five-year kings, weighing in at 65 to 70 pounds, is not expected to affect the charter business, said Joe Connors, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association.

His clients are happy ''as long as they can go fishing and have a decent opportunity to catch and keep a fish,'' he said.

The five-year fish will be replaced by smaller fish that have spent three and four years in the ocean. While smaller, those fish are of significant size, Connors said.

He is more concerned with the continuing uncertainty of the early chinook run, from mid-May through mid-June.

''It's very difficult to book people a year in advance when you don't know what the fishery will do,'' he said. For the last two years, early run king salmon fishing in fresh water was restricted to catch and release.

Connors, whose organization represents 240 guides for fresh water salmon and trout fishing on the Kenai, said the majority of his clients sign on for the late run in July, when there is an ample run of kings.

Among the issues before the state fisheries board are 58 proposals related to the Kenai River chinook fisheries.

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