It is part of what makes our state and community distinctive: Alaska’s wild salmon runs. They differentiate us from almost all other coastal regions in the world. Fishing is part of our heritage, whether sport, commercial, subsistence or personal use.
The key to sustainability with any natural resource is regulatory stability in terms of business planning and long-term investment. This is a significant problem in Cook Inlet, particularly in the Kenai River, due to salmon allocation issues that have been loudly deliberated for the past several years. With the past few seasons of poor king salmon returns the intensity of the debate has grown. Last year, Kenai River sport fishermen, along with East Side Setnet fishermen, were closed down to preserve king salmon for spawning escapement.
There is no doubt — we are in a period of low abundance of king salmon in several Alaskan rivers. However, the Kenai River king salmon fishery is not at risk or in crisis as high profile sport fishers would like us to believe. Though the king numbers are low, late run post-season analysis by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game showed that the 2012 closures on the Kenai River were unnecessary and were the result of previously misunderstood salmon counting and run timing issues. In fact, late run Kenai River king salmon escapement goals have been met in each of the last 25 years and were over escaped in nine of the last 10 years.
Are the king salmon smaller? Yes, but for a variety of reasons including an overcapitalized, in-river, guided, professional sport fish industry that has systematically targeted large king salmon. The propensity of trophy kings may not correlate directly to a smaller run.