An economic and conservation disaster is unfolding on the Kenai River, says the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. But Cook Inlet commercial fishery is proceeding as if everything is normal.
The group is calling on the governor to stop further set net fishing until more kings and sockeye salmon enter the Kenai River.
Sport fisherman, guides, and outfitters say the season has been nearly a complete loss for them.
“Consistent with salmon management plans for Cook Inlet, the Board of Directors of Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) respectfully asks you to direct the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to stop further commercial set net fishing until more kings and sockeye salmon enter the Kenai River. Failure to do so now could jeopardize sustainability of future returns and will further jeopardize an already failing sport fishing and tourism economy on the Kenai Peninsula,” the group wrote to Gov. Bill Walker on Friday.
“Escapement goals are not yet assured and while commercial fishermen have harvested almost one half million sockeye salmon and 1,700 king salmon so far this season, the public fisheries are offered almost no harvest opportunity because of the low numbers of fish entering the river,” the group said.
Commercial set netters have harvested more than 10 times the number of large-size king salmon than have sport anglers, according to KRSA. Commercial fishers have harvested 1,816 king salmon as of July 9.
“Upper Cook Inlet ADFG commercial fishery managers are now considering whether or not to deploy any or all of the commercial fishery this Saturday or Sunday. Managers must resist the temptation to fish even some of the gear available. We need those fish in the river. Keep the entire set net fishery on the beach until there are more fish in the Kenai River!”
ADF&G issued a sportfishing restriction for roadside streams starting Monday, with gear restricted to one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure. The restriction runs through the end of the month due to low kings among returns.
Sockeye harvest numbers are lagging, with the commercial fleet landing 307,086 sockeye by July 9. Last year, the fleet had caught nearly twice that.
As for the river, by last week just 51,308 sockeye had passed the sonar on the Kenai River, half of what had appeared in 2017.