In the continuing saga of Kenai River king salmon management during the current period of low abundance, counting the number of fish coming into the river with enough accuracy to satisfy competing users has been a difficult task for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Researchers are dealing with new, high-tech sonar counters they hope will meet the inherent challenge of finding and counting a few king salmon swimming along with thousands of sockeye salmon.
They are also faced with the task of communicating the subtleties of an increasingly complex system to a public upset by departmental missteps such as the 2012 closure of king salmon anglers and Cook Inlet setnetters due to what managers believed were dangerously low numbers of fish.
In the postseason analysis, ADFG revised its estimates upward to show more than 25,000 king salmon having made it into the river. That was greater than the minimum escapement goal of 17,800, and shouldn’t have led to the complete closures ordered by the department that led to an economic disaster being declared by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
The ADFG Division of Sport Fish sonar program has been slow to spread across the state, but there are few places where using sonar to count fish has been explored as thoroughly as it has been on the Kenai River.