Returns still weak, Kenai late run king restrictions issued

KENAI — With five days left until anglers begin fishing the late run of Kenai River king salmon, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a “no-bait” restriction.

The emergency order, announced June 25, overlaps with an earlier restriction on bait above Slikok Creek set to expire July 14; it covers a portion of the river closed until July 1. Tuesday’s emergency order prohibits the use of bait while sportfishing in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to a Fish and Game regulatory marker located at the outlet of Skilak Lake, and in the Moose River from its conflence with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge beginning July 1 and ending July 31. Anglers may only use a single unbaited hook with an artificial lure.

Area sportfish division management biologist Robert Begich said the early run of king salmon was in low enough numbers — 1,384 as of June 24 — the late run is expected to be low as well.

“Rather than having to issue another EO to extend the bait restriction it’s easier to just repeal one if we want to (add) bait in or keep bait out for the entire month,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is restrict the fishery in such a manner that we can continue to fish for the entire month.”

Commercial setnetters are also seeing their fishing opportunity reduced due to the low run of kings, although not through emergency orders.

Setnetters in the Kasilof Section of the East Side Setnet Fishery could have had openings as early as June 20 once 50,000 sockeye salmon enter the Kasilof River according to their management plan. As of June 22 at midnight, 54,000 sockeye were counted in the river.

“We could have opened them on Sunday (June 23),” Shields said. “I didn’t issue an EO. We’re not opening them early even though the plan says we could have opened them early.”

Setnetters in that section will have their first opener June 27 and although preliminary genetic testing — done in 2010 and 2011 — on the kings caught in that fishery showed no early run kings being caught, Shields said the group would be fished conservatively.

“The sample size was very small, I don’t want to say that there were no early run king salmon among those kings that were caught in the fishery, because we only sampled a few of those fish,” he said.

Rashah McChesney can be reached at [email protected].

06/27/2013 - 7:25am