An unexpected rush of red salmon to the Kenai River is proving a boon for sport and commercial fishermen.
Successful anglers can now stock their freezers with twice as many salmon after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game doubled its bag limit to six fish per day. Only two of anglers' six fish can be silver salmon. None of the six may be kings.
Commercial set gillnetters get 51 additional fishing hours per week. Driftnetters also see some restrictions relaxed.
As of Friday, commercial fishermen have harvested 2.2 million upper Cook Inlet red salmon.
"It's nice news for everybody," said Pat Shields, assistant area management biologist for Fish and Game's commercial fishing division, said of the surprisingly strong run. "So far, we're seeing good survival in three different age classes. It's stronger than forecast."
Biologists now seek 750,000 to 950,000 late-run Kenai reds passing the in-river sonar 19 miles upstream from the mouth of the Kenai. As of Sunday, 647,599 had passed.
That's 46 percent above what had been counted the same day last year -- and the most on July 25 since 2005. That year, 1.38 million fish eventually passed the counter.
Fish and Game's preseason forecast was for a run of 1.7 million Kenai River reds, which includes fish caught by commercial fishermen, anglers and fish that survive to spawn. That number is 45 percent below the 20-year average of 3.1 million.
But the run is developing stronger than anticipated, and Shields estimated about a third of the late run is still heading toward the river.
The only areas not included in the six-salmon limit for anglers are the Russian River and the Kenai River's fly-fishing only area at the confluence with the Russian. There, the limit remains three fish.
Shields noted that the strong return "has occurred while the very popular dip net fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River is taking place."
Last year, personal-use dipnetters took 340,000 salmon at the mouth of the Kenai.
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329.
New salmon rules
Anglers: Six salmon per day, six in possession for all portions of Kenai River open to salmon fishing except the Russian River and the Kenai River “fly-fishing-only waters” at the confluence with the Russian River. Only two of the six may be silvers. No kings.
Setnetters: Up to 51 additional hours of fishing per week on top of the two regular 12-hour periods on Mondays and Thursdays. There are two no-fishing windows — one 24 hours long that biologists can set for any day of the week; the second is 36 hours long and must start between 7 p.m. Thursday and 7 p.m. Friday.