Early-run Kenai Kings are well on their way to a solid rebound from four years of dismal returns
With an estimated 7,515 kings past the sonar counter through Monday June 20, the run is on track for an escapement around the top end of the optimum escapement goal of 9,000 after limited harvest.
A total run of perhaps 10,000 or so will be less than the long term average of 13,000 but double the 2012-2015 average of about 5,000. This is a vast improvement over the record low run of 2,150 estimated in 2013.
Our hats are off to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for their careful and effective management of the early run through the recent period of poor ocean conditions. Timely fishery restriction and closures from 2012 through 2015 were essential for protecting spawning escapements needed to ensure recovery of this run. With the rebound in numbers, early run kings are again available for sport fishing for the first time since 2013 and for limited harvest for the first time since 2012. Precautionary management of this year’s early king run again put the fish first while also allowing anglers to again enjoy an opportunity to fish on the harvestable surplus.
With the early run beginning to wind down, anglers are now looking forward to the return of Kenai late run kings. Late run sockeye are also beginning to return to Cook Inlet and commercial, sport and personal use fisheries for them are ready to gear up. Early and late run kings swim in the same ocean so the improved early run holds some hope for a similar rebound in king numbers during July. However, early and late runs do not always vary in lock step, so the late king run strength remains to be seen. As with the early run, we look forward to precautionary early management of the late run until the fish tell us how they are doing. The fish are always in charge.