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ADFG Restricts Sport Fishing for Kenai River King Salmon

May 13, 2013|By Jessica Ridgway | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is issuing catch-and-release restrictions on Kenai River king salmon sport fishing, due to estimates that rank this year’s preseason run as the lowest measured over the past 28 years.

Fish and Game officials say the preseason estimate for 2013 indicates a total run of 5,300 kings -- a number which pales in comparison to runs from 1986 through 2012, which measured an average run of 14,000 fish, according to an ADFG report.

“We're forecasting a well-below-average run for king salmon on the Kenai River," said Fish and Game biologist Tom Vania. “It's a projection of about 5,300 fish, and if that's what it comes in to be, it will be the lowest on record.”

Steve McClure, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, says the continued restrictions will have a huge impact not only on the Kenai Peninsula, but also the entire state.

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“There are people that aren’t going to come,” said McClure. “We’re already seeing the effects of the downturn and the restrictions from last year. Before the season even starts there were fewer tourists, fewer clients available for the summer before it even started."

From Thursday, May 16, to June 30, Kenai River anglers are prohibited from harvesting king salmon between 20 and 55 inches in length, which must be released immediately. Kings shorter than 20 inches or longer than 55 inches may still be harvested.

In addition, the department prohibits the use of bait while sport fishing in waters of the Kenai River -- only an unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure may be used.

The department’s decision to issue the restriction comes with its strategy to maintain an optimal escapement goal for early-run kings of between 5,300 and 9,000 fish.

"There is little indication to date of a change in the low Chinook production trend observed
statewide," officials wrote. "It is therefore prudent to start the early run fishery as catch-and-release until inseason data indicates some harvest can be allowed or alternatively further restriction is necessary to meet the OEG."

According to Vania, Fish and Game is taking a more careful tack as a result of that outlook.

“We feel it’s prudent to start out the fishery more conservative than what the existing regulations are already,” Vania said. “We’re going to start out slow and see how the run develops.”

McClure says he doesn’t have a problem with the new restrictions, since the health of the resource comes first. He does have a problem, however, with Fish and Game issuing Monday's order based on a preseason forecast -- rather than waiting until early June, when it could make a decision based on real data.

“That's part of the problem,” McClure said.  “They told us they were going to do that and they didn't, they changed their mind. Now we're having to scramble and go back to people and say, 'Well, hate to tell you this, even though you've already booked your trip and you're coming to Alaska -- the department changed their mind this week.'"

Steve McClure, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, says the continued restrictions will have a huge impact not only on the Kenai Peninsula, but also the entire state.

“There are people that aren’t going to come,” said McClure. “We’re already seeing the effects of the downturn and the restrictions from last year. Before the season even starts there were fewer tourists, fewer clients available for the summer before it even started."

McClure says he doesn’t have a problem with the new restrictions, since the health of the resource comes first. He does have a problem, however, with Fish and Game issuing Monday's order based on a preseason forecast -- rather than waiting until early June, when it could make a decision based on real data.

“That's part of the problem,” said McClure.  “They told us they were going to do that and they didn't, they changed their mind. Now we're having to scramble and go back to people and say, 'Well, hate to tell you this, even though you've already booked your trip and you're coming to Alaska -- the department changed their mind this week.'"

Channel 2's Blake Essig contributed information to this story.

Contact Jessica Ridgway

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