Effective as of 12:01 this morning, anglers fishing on the Kenai River upstream of the sonar counter at River Mile 19 came under new bag and possession limits imposed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The limits reduce their take to one sockeye salmon a day.
Mile 19 is about two river miles below the Soldotna bridge. Sockeye fishing downstream of that point remains closed.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reduce sockeye salmon bag and possession limits to three fish in the rod-and-reel federal subsistence fishery beginning at 12:01 Thursday.
The state emergency order reducing the state's bag and possession limit for sockeye issued Monday will remain in effect through the end of the year, the agency said. A bag limit is the number of fish one can take per day. A possession limit is the number of fish one may have in one's possession that have not been preserved, as say, in your freezer at home, or in your belly after enjoying fish over a campfire.
What that means for anglers is you can take one fish a day, but you must preserve it if you want to take another the next. Any sockeye caught beyond the bag limit must be set free.
The Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon management plan authorizes the commissioner of Fish and Game to decrease the bag and possession limit if the projected in-river run of sockeye salmon above the sonar counter is less than 650,000 fish and the in-river sport fishery harvest is projected to result in an escapement below the optimal escapement goal.
As of Sunday, the counter registered 499,178 fish, according to state Area Management Biologist Robert Begich. The rate at which sockeyes are entering the river is considered insufficient to achieve the optimal spawning escapement of between 500,000 and 1 million fish (reaching the spawning grounds) without a reduction in the sport fishery harvest, the order said.
"The hope is to get past the 650,000 minimum that would allow for up-river harvest of an average of 150,000 fish," Begich said, adding that minimum amount would still allow escapement to enter the desired range of 500,000 to 1 million sockeyes.
Certain areas are exempt from the order, Fish and Game said. They include the Russian River and "fly-fishing-only waters" of the Kenai at the confluence of the Russian River, including a potion of the Kenai between the department's regulatory markers located about 300 yards upstream of the public boat launch at Sportsman's Landing to the power line downstream. Within those boundaries the limit remains at three fish. No more than one of those fish may be a sockeye, however, and no more than two may be coho salmon.
The bag and possession limit for pink salmon is still six fish.
In a press release accompanying the emergency order, Fish and Game said it was taking the measure to reduce the harvest of Kenai sockeye as part of an effort to achieve an optimal escapement. That effort includes a reduction in the commercial fishing take. Further actions may be taken, the department said.
The subsistence limits being imposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be in effect in federal public waters of the Kenai River, except in the Russian River and Kenai River "fly-fishing only" areas at the confluence of the Russian River, described by the state's boat launch and power line boundaries above.
Subsistence users able to fish under the federal rules include those eligible residents of Cooper Landing, Hope and Ninilchik, according to Cook Inlet in-season manager Doug Palmer.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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