A proposal to close sections of the Kenai River to king salmon fishing in alternating years is sure to inspire some spirited discussion at the Board of Fisheries meeting early next year.
Ideas for closing parts of the Kenai to king salmon fishing have been kicking around for as long as I can remember. Due to this year's dismal return of kings and a dearth of larger kings, more people are considering such closures.
A couple months ago in this column, I suggested closing the first seven miles of the river downstream from Skilak Lake to protect the main-stem spawners in that area. No small number of anglers -- including several guides -- have no qualms about dragging spawning kings off their redds. To an angler from Ohio or Kansas, it doesn't matter if his trophy king is spawning for its first and last time. He doesn't care if it's color is dark red, not bright silver.
Kenai resident Dwight Kramer recently suggested in a recent Clarion opinion article that four "spawning conservation zones" be established in the lower 50 miles of the Kenai. From the mouth to River Mile 19, Skikok Creek, fishing for kings would be open annually. The other three zones would be closed every other year. The idea is to provide some "undisturbed spawning protection," according to Kramer. I like this idea.
Commercial fishermen would go even further. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) has proposed that the Board of Fisheries ban king salmon fishing on the lower Kenai, from its mouth to River Mile 19. Between River Mile 19 and Skilak Lake, the river would be divided into two sections, each of which would be closed to king salmon fishing every other year. UCIDA's proposal may seem radical, but it does make some valid points. The group contends that the intensity of fishing activity on the Kenai River doesn't provide enough time for large Kenai kings to survive long enough to spawn, and I agree.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that proponents of closing parts of the Kenai come from both sport and commercial user-groups. Cook Inlet commercial fishing interests stand to benefit by anything that reduces fishing pressure on the Kenai River.
I don't harbor any illusions that state fisheries managers will support these ideas. Closing any fishery diminishes fishing opportunity. Neither do I imagine that the guide lobby will want to close sections of the Kenai. But I hope the fish board takes these concerns about Kenai kings seriously. Due to greed and ignorance, this large race of chinook salmon is one of the last on earth. It would be a crime to lose it due to a misguided attempt to maximize opportunity.
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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