Slow Salmon Runs Continue to Harm Fishing on the Kenai Peninsula

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by Russ Slaten

Fishing on the Kenai Peninsula is a large part of the economy for the region, and like many areas of Alaska the peninsula is experiencing a weak return of king salmon.

Recently only opened to fishing without bait, king salmon fishing in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers is scarce.

Kenai sport fishing is restricted from catching kings, but commercial fishing is open to catching reds, leaving many sport fishermen worried about the number of king salmon down the road.

Sport fishing for king salmon has only recently opened up on a no-bait basis, leaving fishing guides struggling to bring up business.

Meanwhile, commercial fishermen are seeing less restrictions. Set gill nets have been allowed for much of the season and large drift nets near Kenai will be allowed next Monday. Commercial fishermen are looking to catch a slow run of red salmon.

Sport fishermen say they accept the need to restrict fishing, in order to protect the health of the king run, but say commercial fishing for reds will see a bycatch of kings.

Twenty-nine-year Kenai Fishing Guide Val Early said this year has been the worse year for king salmon she has ever seen, and said Fish and Game should manage the Kenai in a way that conserves kings for generations to come.

"The economy here, and the tax base here is dependent on both sport and commercial fishing and there's no reason that they can't coexist, but there's still gonna be that balancing act that's gonna have to protect some of these fisheries, and there's gonna have to be some give and take on both sides," said Early.

According to state numbers, Kenai River king salmon estimates only reached about 3,300 fish by the end of June, about half of the total king salmon as last year during the same time period.

"This unique fish, [king salmon], needs to be protected because the genetics in this river system are like no where else in the world, and if we don't protect them, we're not gonna have them anymore," said Kenai Outfitters Guide Nolan Davis.

Officials originally suspected the ocean as a factor, since the whole state is seeing a lack of king salmon. Some officials said high water levels along with cold temperatures are contributing to the weak runs.

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Cristy Fry said on Friday, Jul 6 at 2:10 PM

Wow, what a biased story! Try talking to someone from Fish and Game, or a commercial fisherman. The set gillnet fishery was shut down for three regular periods to let king salmon pass by, costing the fishermen and Peninsula businesses thousands upon thousands of dollars. Over-escapement of red salmon also has a detrimental effect on king salmon by increasing competition for food in the river systems. Drift gillnets caught a whopping 500 king salmon last season, hardly enough to justify restricting the fishery because of king salmon returns. Also, the demise of the Kenai kings really began in earnest about 25 years ago, not coincidentally about the same time the guided in-river sport fishing businesses really took off, with an emphasis on harvesting the largest of the Kenai brood stock, removing those prolific breeders from the gene pool. Do some research before you start trying to drive a deeper wedge between the sport and commercial fishermen who all call the Peninsula their home.

Joe Johnson said on Friday, Jul 6 at 9:37 PM

Thank you Cristy Fry, you took the words right out of my mouth. Sadly the only good part about this article is it clearly points to the existing lack of knowledge out there about fish conservation and management. Hopefully through continuing public education on proper fish management we can stop the fingerpointing and work towards a strong fishery system for all.

3 gen Kenai guide said on Monday, Jul 9 at 6:47 PM

no mention of set net harvest of King Salmon??? And the old " sockeye overescapement" theroy. The only solution is to allow more net time, harvest as many sockeyes as possible!! That will bring the Kenai back!! Really, it will not be long and the commies will own the Kenai and it's last few Kings. The Kenai guide will be nothing more than a tale of years past.

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