Fishers catch a break at Kasilof River

Large salmon return so far leads Fish and Game to relax fishing restrictions

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005

Many Kenai Peninsula residents, their neighbors in Anchorage and tourists from Outside hope for a strong run as salmon begin their annual return to the rivers, and they don't get much stronger than what's already happening on the Kasilof River.

"The magnitude and strength of the sockeye return in the Kasilof River at the moment is impressive and unexpected, with much of the sockeye run still to come," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell in Juneau.

As of Friday, the Kasilof escapement was already more than 87,000 sockeye — an all-time record for this early in the season.

More than 100,000 sockeye have already been harvested in the commercial setnet fishery, as well as an estimated 25,000 in the personal use setnet fishery.

As a result of this flood of fish, Fish and Game is expecting the final season total return to be well over forecast — between 150,000 and 300,000 fish, and so has issued several emergency orders to increase the exploitation rate of sockeye for the benefit of all user groups.

"Basically, all fisheries for Kasilof stock will be expanded," said Jeff Fox, commercial fisheries area management biologist for Fish and Game in Soldotna.

Commercial driftnetters and setnetters in the Kasilof section of the upper subdistrict were allowed to fish an additional 12 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Kasilof River personal use setnet salmon fishers got an extra day added to their fishery. Instead of the normal closing date of June 24, the fishery was allowed to continue from 6:00 a.m. until 11 p.m. Saturday.

"I think it's great we got an extra day," said Sherry Youngblood, a personal use setnet fisher from Anchorage.

Youngblood said the fishing was off to a slow start early Saturday morning, but she was hopeful things would change as the day progressed.

"It's slow, but I think there's a lot of fish out there. I just have to wait for the tide to change and then I'll start catching them. At least that's what I'm hoping for, anyway," she said.

The Kasilof personal use dipnet fishery opened at 12:01 a.m. Saturday to an increased fishing area.

Dipnetters from the shoreline can now fish from the Fish and Game markers on the Cook Inlet beaches upstream to the Sterling Highway bridge. Dipnetters in boats can fish from the markers upstream approximately three miles to Trujillo's Landing.

"I'd rate the fishing as fair," said James Zuke of Anchorage, dipnetting for his first time with his father and a friend.

They had managed to net six salmon within the first hour — conditions that are slow but steady by most accounts.

"It's not one after another, but it's pretty steady," Zuke said.

Despite the fishing not be as fast and furious as it can sometimes get, Zuke's party didn't try and point fingers at any other user groups and said the overall experience was excellent.

"The salmon are a natural resource. We've got to share them and make the best use of them. There's enough fish to go around," Zuke said.

"There's definitely a crowd, but it's not as bad as on the Russian," added Zuke's friend Charles Felder of Anchorage, referring to what was already an overcrowded fishery before Saturday, when the daily bag limit in the Russian River-Kenai River fly fishing-only area was increased from three per day and three in possession to four per day and eight in possession.

Sport fishers also saw an increase in fishing opportunities on the Kasilof. On Saturday, Fish and Game increased the rod-and-reel sport limit for sockeye salmon 16 inches or longer from three per day and three in possession to six per day and 12 in possession.

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