June 12, 2017: ADF&G Increases Max Size for Early King Retention
With more king salmon coming into the river than projected, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game increased the maximum size allowed for retention from 36 inches to 46 inches for king salmon taken between the mouth of the Kenai River and the markers at Slikok Creek. The 36 inch limit still applies to fish taken between Slikok Creek and Skilak Lake.
Under the management plan for early-run kings, Fish and Game manages for an escapement goal of between 3,900 and 6,600 large king salmon. As of Sunday, about 4,010 large kings had passed the sonar site, which doesn’t include harvest above the sonar site. Current projections are for the run to come in at about 7,870 large fish, which after harvest still would come in above 7,660 large fish, significantly above the upper end of the escapement goal, according to an emergency order issued Monday.
“During normal run timing, 51 percent of the run would have passed the river mile 14 sonar site by this date,” the emergency order states.
Upping the maximum size limit is one method of liberalization offered under the new early-run king salmon management plan, rewritten in March by the Board of Fisheries. Managers are allowed to either up the maximum size allowed for retention or to go to bait. The managers felt that rather than doing both, they would prefer to just up the maximum size for now, said Jason Pawluk, the assistant area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna.
Upping the maximum size from 36 inches to 46 inches dramatically increases the percentage of the run available to harvest, Pawluk said. Under the 36-inch limit, about 28 percent of the run was available to harvest. Under the 46-inch limit, about 83 percent is available to harvest, he said.
“46 inches still accomplishes our directive of … restricting the harvest of 5-ocean kings because we still have a concern for those fish given the low returns over the past 12 (or) 13 years,” he said.
Before the rewrite in March, Fish and Game managed the early run king harvest using a tool called the slot limit — restricting fish harvest over a certain size and under another size, known as the slot. However, out of concern for the decreasing average size and age of fish returning in the early run, several user groups brought forward proposals to the Board of Fisheries eliminating the slot limit and replacing it with a maximum size instead. The rewrite, ultimately a synthesis of several proposals and several days’ worth of discussions, separated the river into two segments, intended primarily to provide additiona
l conservation for the largest early-run kings.
Although anglers have been excitedly talking about the improved return of Kenai River early-run kings this year, effort has been relatively low. Pawluk said the estimated harvest with the current level of effort and catch-and-release mortality currently through June 30 under the 36-inch limit was only about 171 fish.
“It’s a lot of catch-and-release fishing, and that’s exactly what our creel has been sampling,” he said. “Due to the 36-inch size limit, not a lot of people can retain them if they wanted to.”
The early-run king salmon regulations apply until June 30, when management switches over to the late-run king salmon management plan.
The 2017 Kenai River early-run king salmon preseason projection is for 6,500 large (> 34 inches) king salmon. This projection falls within the optimal escapement goal (OEG) of 3,900 to 6,600 large king salmon. In February, the Alaska Board of Fisheries amended 5 AAC 57.160 Kenai River and Kasilof River Early-run King Salmon Management Plan such that if the Kenai River early run king salmon preseason projection falls within or above the OEG, the early-run king salmon sport fishery may start under general regulations for the Kenai River (5 AAC 57.120) until an inseason projection is available (see below).
Kenai River king salmon sport angling regulations for January 1 through June 30, 2017 in Kenai River waters below Skilak Lake are as follows:
- Bait is prohibited, and only one single–hook, artificial lure may be used.
- The bag and possession limit for king salmon 20 inches or greater in length is one king salmon. Only king salmon 36 inches or less may be retained. King salmon greater than 36 inches in length may not be removed from the water and must be released.
- There is a five fish annual limit for king salmon over 20 inches from all Cook Inlet Drainage waters in combination, which includes only two fish per year over 20 inches can come from the Kenai River, except fish under 28 inches in length caught in the Kenai River prior to July 1 do not count towards the annual limit. All harvested fish that count towards an annual limit must be recorded on a harvest record or your license.
- The bag and possession limit for king salmon less than 20 inches (jacks), is ten fish.
Regulations may be liberalized or restricted inseason by emergency order if subsequent inseason projections, based on the sonar counts at river mile 14, suggest that the king salmon OEG may not be achieved. Sufficient inseason information is typically available by ~ June 15. Regardless of projected run size during the early or late king salmon runs, possible liberalizations to the king salmon sport fishery through July 31, can only occur below Slikok Creek (5 AAC 57.160).
Pick up a 2017 regulation booklet or see below web site for more information
All Eastside Cook Inlet beaches will remain closed to sport and personal use clamming in 2017 due to the continued low abundance of mature size razor clams. Any razor clam harvest in 2017 will likely delay recovery of east side Cook Inlet razor clam populations. The closure prohibits the taking of any clam species from Eastside Beaches and will be in effect from 12:01 a.m. Sunday, January 1 through Sunday, December 31, 2017. The affected area runs from the mouth of the Kenai River to the southernmost tip of the Homer Spit.
Abundance of mature sized razor clams remained at a historic low level on both Ninilchik and Clam Gulch beach sections; however, above average recruitment of juvenile size razor clams were detected on both beach sections. At the Ninilchik South beach section, a new cohort of nearly 0.85 million age-1 razor clams was detected. At the Clam Gulch North beach section, approximately 2.5 million juvenile razor clams were detected. The above average recruitment signals that the population may be beginning to rebound. These beach sections will again be surveyed in 2017 so recruitment trends of juvenile size razor clams and natural mortality trends of juvenile and mature size razor clams can be assessed.
The cause of the decline in razor clam abundance on eastside Cook Inlet beaches remains unknown but is thought to have resulted from a combination of poor spawning and/or settling success and high natural mortality of mature size razor clams.
This closure does not affect sport and personal use razor clam regulations on Westside Cook Inlet beaches.