Prudent conservation measures will help restore shrinking returns: Kenai River King Protection


March 8, 2017

CONTACT: Ricky Gease (907) 398-2260

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – The Alaska Board of Fisheries on Monday unanimously approved a proposal from a coalition of sport fishing advocates to strengthen protections on the Kenai River for early run king salmon.

The changes to the Kenai River Early Run Management Plan will improve conservation efforts andhelp restore the river’s highly valued king fishery, which has suffered from historically low returns in recent years.

The revised plan was advanced by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Kenai River Professional Guide Association and the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition, and championed by Board of Fisheries member Robert Ruffner of Soldotna.

“We think this management plan takes an appropriately cautious approach to protecting the early run kings and will help us rebuild the overall size, age, and gender ratio of the fishery,” Ruffner said. “Our goal is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to catch Alaska’s fabled king salmon. By managing for high escapements and putting more numbers of larger, older fish on the spawning grounds, we hope to reduce the risks of low returns in future years.”

The new Kenai king salmon management plan approved Monday incorporates three major changes in management:

  1. Moves to new large fish escapement goals, based on kings more than 33 inches in length, which both early and late run king salmon escapement goals will be based;
  2. Establishes an early run king salmon sustainable escapement goal (SEG) of 2,800 to 5,600 large kings and an optimal escapement goal (OEG) of 3,900 to 6,600 large kings; and
  3. Establishes separate management tools through July 31 for the middle river, with more conservation measures (no bait, no retention of fish more than 36 inches), and for the lower river, with more harvest measures (options for bait and retention of fish greater than 36 inches, no mandatory restrictions after June 30).

The changes provide for a more predictable fishery, less likely to be closed, with added protections for large fish. This is a rebuilding plan for early run kings, to maximize spawning females in an effort to boost overall returns sooner rather than later. The plan can be revisited at a later date, and conservation measures put in place now can be evaluated for effectiveness. In the meantime, it provides for a more orderly fishery, with clear yet separate guidelines for harvest in the lower and middle river, designed to maximize conservation yet also provide for angler opportunity.

The plan takes into account uncertainty in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s escapement estimates to provide the highest possible chinook returns to the upper section of the Kenai River, to ensure that the age and size composition of the harvest closely approximates the age and size of the run over time.

Representatives of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, and the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition praised the cooperation and collaboration that went into crafting and passing the management plan.

“Our hope is that these measures will protect the Kenai fishery and ensure our great-grandchildren have an opportunity to catch the giant kings we remember,” Mark Hamilton, KRSA Board Chair. “We all felt it was time to work together on a new approach. Everyone agreed that it would be foolish to stand by and let the fishery continue to decline.”

To schedule a meeting with Ricky Gease or to schedule an on-camera interview with a KRSA board member, please call 907-569-7070.