Sockeye salmon continue to pour into the Kenai River, where biologists have increased personal use fishing hours and sport bag limits to deal with the flood of fish.
On Friday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued emergency orders allowing personal use fishermen more fishing time at the mouth of the river and increasing the sport limit to six fish per day downstream of Skilak Lake as the river’s escapement approached 1 million sockeye.
Nearly 100,000 fish were counted past the department’s sonar site at river mile 19 on both Saturday and Sunday, capping a week that saw more than half a million sockeye swim upriver.
As of Saturday night, dipnetting is now allowed 24 hours a day in the open area at the mouth of the Kenai River. The personal use fishery is open to Alaska residents only with a valid sportfishing license and personal use permit. The fishery runs through Wednesday.
Additionally, sport anglers may now keep up to six sockeye per day (with 12 in possession) through the end of the year, though sockeye fishing typically peaks in late July and early August. The bag limit increase went into effect Sunday morning.
The decisions were made due to an abundance of late-run sockeye in the Kenai, which is managed for an in-river escapement of 1 million to 1.3 million fish.
Fish and Game management biologist Colton Lipka cautioned that just because the bag limits have been increased doesn’t mean anglers will necessarily see an increase in success for sockeye, which enter the river in large, sporadic pulses.
“Fish passage into the Kenai River fluctuates on a daily basis making some day’s better fishing than others,” he said in a Friday statement.
This year’s return through July 28 is more than twice as large as last year and the largest since 2013, when 1.2 million sockeye were counted through that date.
The strong returns are a welcome return to normalcy for fishermen on the Kenai, where thousands of people flock each year to harvest hundreds of thousands of salmon. Each Alaska resident is allowed a combined 25 personal use sockeye (plus 10 more for each additional household member) in the various Cook Inlet personal fisheries, of which the Kenai River is by far the largest. Last year the fishery closed early after a low return saw less than half a million fish enter the river through late July. The escapement eventually reached 1 million sockeye by the time sonar counts ended Aug. 28.
For more information, visit the department’s website at adfg.alaska.gov.