Regs set for early-run king fishing

Jan 26, 2021

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is projecting an early run of about 4,400 king salmon in the Kenai River this year.
Credit Redoubt Reporter

Kenai River sport fishermen can start the season under general regulations.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is projecting an early run of about 4,400 large king salmon, longer than 34 inches. That’s just below the recent five-year average of 4,700 fish, and about half of the 35-year average of 9,000 fish.

Preseason estimates aren’t perfect. Last year, Fish and Game projected an early run of 4,800 large fish, though the run was ultimately about half that.

But it needs those estimates to come up with a management plan before the season starts.

Since the projection for the early king run is within the department’s optimal escapement goal, or OEG, the sport fish season can start under general regulations. 

General regulations prohibit bait and allow single-hook, artificial lures. For king salmon larger than 20 inches, the bag and possession limit is one. Under 20 inches, it’s 10. Fishermen must release salmon that are at least 34 inches long.

Regulations could change once the run starts and Fish and Game gets a sense of how it’s actually going.

“So once we get this pre-season management decision made, now it’s the waiting game of getting the sonar in the water in May, and then collecting the data up until the point where we have enough data and feel certain enough in that data to make the next decision,” said Colton Lipka, northern Kenai Peninsula area management biologist for the department. “And all decisions relate to achieving the escapement goal.”

The OEG for early-run kings is 3,900 to 6,600 fish.

Early runs typically enter the Kenai River around mid-May and peak mid-June. Regulations for this period extend until June 30.

Late-run salmon enter the Kenai River in July. Fish and Game predicts a late run of about 18,400 fish. That's within the late-run OEG of 15,000 to 30,000 fish and is also below average.

Last year’s early and late runs were both poor and didn’t make escapement. As a result, the state closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing.

Closures affect commercial fishermen, too. The state’s management plan restricts commercial sockeye fishing in Upper Cook Inlet when sport fishing in the rivers is restricted, so that commercial nets don’t accidentally catch kings. That doesn’t bode well for set-netters, who are already projected to have a poor sockeye season in 2021.