Better late than never -- at least as far as the early-run king salmon on the Kenai River are concerned.
With a significant jump in the number of fish entering the Kenai River over the past week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has lifted catch-and-release restrictions on the Kenai River, effective 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
"We've had a pretty good return in the river over the past week," said Mike Bethe, a Fish and Game area management biologist for the upper Kenai Peninsula's sport fisheries. "We're confident that we can project an escapement above the minimum levels."
The catch-and-release restrictions, implemented by emergency order on June 13, required all kings less than 52 inches in total length be released.
When those restrictions are lifted Tuesday, a king of any size caught on the Kenai River may be retained. Regulations that limit tackle to unbaited, single-hook artificial lures will remain in effect until the end of the early king salmon run -- midnight on June 30.
The number of king salmon passing the Fish and Game sonar counter at the mouth of the Kenai River increased dramatically starting June 16, when an estimated 441 fish entered the river. Between June 16 and this past Wednesday, 3,455 fish swam past the counter -- an average of 494 kings per day, with a high-water mark of 765 fish on June 17.
When Fish and Game implemented the catch-and-release emergency order on June 13, a total of 4,175 kings had been counted entering the river, and the department was generally seeing between 100 and 200 fish passing the sonar counter each day.
Bethe said there wasn't necessarily a reason why this run -- or any run, for that matter -- came in late.
"This run might have been two or three days late," Bethe said. "It just sometimes occurs that way."
Fish and Game manages the king salmon fishery on the Kenai River for a spawning escapement range of 7,200 to 14,400 fish. The department currently is projecting a total in-river return of 11,300 early-run kings. A total harvest of 2,700 fish has been projected, meaning the department's final escapement projection is 8,600 early-run kings.
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