New regulations aimed at protecting large, early-run Kenai River king salmon appear to have had a positive impact on the June fishery, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Mark Gamblin
Gamblin said Tuesday that the regulation, which mandated that anglers release early-run Kenai kings measuring more than 44 inches and less than 55 inches in length, worked well at providing a harvest opportunity to anglers while protecting the largest of the large fish.
"People were able to harvest a good number of fish," Gamblin said.
Although he cautioned final numbers aren't yet available, Gamblin estimated that around 13,000 kings returned to the river during the early run, of which he guessed around 3,000 were harvested by sportfishers.
Gamblin said the department estimates roughly 25 percent of kings caught during the early run, which ended June 30, fell into the 44- to 55-inch nonretention slot. Of those, Gamblin guessed several likely fell into the higher end of the range.
"We had reliable reports of fish in the 50-inch range (being released)," he said.
The slot limit was lifted Tuesday for the portion of the Kenai River downstream from the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna, though it will remain in place above the bridge until July 15. However, bait is now allowed for king fishing through the entire river below Skilak Lake.
Gamblin said he's been pleased with the amount of cooperation he's seen from the public regarding the often perplexing regulations.
"There was a bit of confusion at the beginning of the season," he said. "But we had good public awareness and compliance has been excellent."
He said crowing did not seem to be an issue during the early run, and the overall run strength appeared to be right on target for the department's management of the fishery.
"I wish every season went as smoothly as (the early run)," he said.
As for the elusive monster king measuring in excess of 55 inches, Gamblin said the department was not aware of any fish that large being retained in May or June. Fish that large must be officially sealed by the department within three days of being caught.
"Both you and I would probably know if a fish that big was taken," he said.
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