The Alaska Board of Fish has approved extending the recreational Kenai River coho fishery through Oct. 31, a month beyond the typical closing date.
The extension is good for this season only.
Convening Tuesday, the board approved an emergency petition from the Kenai-Soldotna Advisory Committee to extend the fishery.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been conducting a research program on the river's cohos. According to Sarah Gilbertson, special assistant to Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy, coho escapements this year are seven to 10 times larger than in 1999, when the department first started counting on the river.
"Also this season, exploitation rates by all user groups is at roughly 40 percent, which is pretty low," Gilbertson said Wednesday.
Fish and Game did not oppose the emergency petition, Gilbertson added, because the move was not considered to raise any conservation concerns, nor was it expected the additional harvest would jeopardize escapement.
"We estimate that the additional harvest would be 1,500 fish at most," she said.
Local sportfish area management biologist George Pappas said Wednesday that the department felt comfortable with the extension because of information that's been gathered during the department's ongoing coho population project.
"The reason the season could be extended was because of the preliminary information gathered by the coho project," Pappas said.
The fishing extension applies to the Kenai River, but tributaries, including the Russian River and the Moose River, close for silver salmon fishing at midnight today.
Fish and Game said the use of bait and multiple hooks is allowed from the mouth of the Kenai River upstream to the mouth of the upper Killey River. The daily bag and possession limit for silver salmon 20 inches or greater in length in these waters is two fish. Upstream of the upper Killey, only one unbaited, single-hook artificial lure is allowed.
Restrictions to fishing from guide boats remain in effect.
Pappas said he believes the board's speedy response to the petition filed by the Kenai-Soldotna Advisory Committee was a good example of cooperation from all groups involved.
"For everybody from the department to the local AC to organization representatives and the Board of Fish getting together, it was great cooperation," he said. "They looked at this for 15 minutes, and said, 'Let's go fishing.'"
Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this story.
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