In an effort to balance the protection of large Kenai River king salmon with resident harvest opportunities, the Alaska Board of Fisheries voted Tuesday to ban the harvest of Kenai River king salmon measuring from 44 to 54 inches in length from Jan. 1 through June 30, as well as prohibit nonresident anglers from fishing for kings between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in May and June.
The regulations are part of a package of rules the board passed to deal with the Kenai and Kasilof rivers early-run king salmon fisheries. Also included in the revised management plan for the Kenai were regulations to further protect early-run Kenai kings through July above the Soldotna bridge; as well as guidelines for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to follow when spawning escapements are projected to fall either above or below the 7,200 to 14,400 fish escapement goal.
The new rules are similar to regulations the board passed last year, which called for a nonretention "slot limit" for kings between 40 and 55 inches in length. That regulation caused controversy among local Kenai anglers, who argued it cut into opportunity for resident harvest of Kenai kings.
However, the board felt that imposing a slot limit to protect the largest, "five ocean" kings was imperative for ensuring future returns of the large kings that have made the Kenai famous. Accord-ing to the Fish and Game, making 44 to 54 inch kings off limits will likely protect 60 to 80 percent of early-run spawners in the five-ocean class.
The board did make one concession to local anglers: Board member Art Nelson proposed an amendment that would close the Kenai during May and June to nonresident anglers between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Nelson said the amendment would provide residents with a greater opportunity to harvest kings during the early run.
"Residents feel their harvest opportunity on the Kenai River early run has been reduced significantly in recent years," Nelson said.
However, board member Larry Engle said he believes the issue of how to allocate king salmon should not be taken up by the board during a meeting that's supposed to deal with conservation of the early run.
"The board is inappropriately discussing something that is purely allocative," Engle argued. "It would be more appropriate to be brought up in (regular meeting) cycle."
Despite Engle's objection, the board voted in favor of the amendment 5-2.
Following the meeting, Nelson said he believes the new rules balance the need to save large fish with residents' desire to harvest kings for consumptive purposes.
"We came up with a good plan to conserve the big fish and also address the resident harvest opportunity," he said.
Kenai River Professional Guides Association President Joe Connors said he believes resident anglers now will have ample opportunity to harvest early-run Kenai kings.
"That has to be a win for residents," Connors said. "They just got 84 exclusive hours."
However, Tom Corr, who is a member of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Commit-tee said the issue did not get enough public input to be passed into regulation.
"It was brought up so late, they probably should have left that alone," Corr said.
Other new regulations on the Kenai call for the continuation of the 44- to 55-inch limit from July 1-14 above the Soldotna bridge and measures to "step down" the fishery if escapement is projected to fall below 7,200 kings.
Such measures could include closing the river to all king fishing through June 30; limiting anglers fishing above the bridge to single-hook, no-bait fishing through July 14 with retention of kings below 44 or above 54 inches only; limiting anglers above the bridge to no-bait, single-hook fishing with retention of kings 55 inches and longer; or closing the river to king fishing from the bridge upstream to Skilak Lake until July 14.
Additionally, if the escapement is projected to be above 14,400 kings during the early run, the department may liberalize the fishery by allowing bait. However, the nonretention slot limit will remain in place for the entirety of the early run, regardless of escapement.
Corr said the regulations to protect middle river kings are a step in the right direction, but he would have liked to see more restrictions on fishing above the bridge.
"I would have liked to have seen the early kings protected more in July," he said.
Despite his misgivings, however, Corr said he was fairly happy with the board addressing concerns from local residents.
"Did we win? We didn't lose," he said.
In addition to the rules passed for the Kenai River, the board also addressed the early-run Kasilof River king fishery. The board voted to allow only hatchery-raised Kasilof kings to be retained from Jan. 1 through June 30. Hatchery fish can be identified by their lack of an adipose fin.
Kasilof anglers also now will be limited to using single-hook, baited lures through June 30; after catching a Kasilof king, must stop fishing for kings anywhere king fishing is allowed for the rest of the day; may not remove a king salmon from the water before releasing it; and may not fish from boats using an anchor in the area of the confluence with Crooked Creek, an area known as the "people hole" popular with shore-based fishers.
Also, electric trolling or outboard motors up to 10 horsepower will now be allowed for transportation purposes downstream from Trujillo's Landing to the mouth of the Kasilof River, as long as the boat is not used for fishing the Kasilof for the rest of the day.
Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Brett Huber said his organization felt the Board of Fish did the right thing Tuesday with the new regulations. He said the board was right to impose the slot limit because Fish and Game has said it's needed to protect the biological characteristics of the run.
"KRSA came up here to support the department's biological assessment," Huber said. "Generally, we were pleased with the board's actions."
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