New “step-down” emergency orders from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have significant implications for commercial and sport fishing on the Kenai River and upper Cook Inlet next month.

This year’s early run of king salmon is nearly over, and fishery managers say the late run is expected to be small. Fish and Game is operating under a new plan officials say provides opportunity, yet there are new restrictions to be aware of.
The Kenai River has been closed to king salmon fishing this summer, but that is about to change downriver of the Kenai’s Mile 18 on July 1.

“At that that time, king fishing will be allowed in a small portion of the Kenai River,” said Fish and Game biologist Robert Begich.

Fish and Game calls it an opportunity when the late run is projected to total less than 20,000 fish, just inside the escapement goal -- but asks anglers to respect the rules.

“The big thing for July 1 is bait is prohibited in the Kenai River, period -- regardless of what species of fish you're fishing for,” Begich said.

This year, that decision also means changes for the commercial set netters in the upper Cook Inlet.

“So when the in-river fishery goes to no bait, there is 36 hours available for the commercial set net fishery,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

That's a big cut in fishing time. In February, commercial setnetters voiced their displeasure over new rules they say don't share the conservation burden equally.

“The east side set net fishery has lost about 70 percent of its opportunity and that's pretty significant,” setnet fisherman Jim Butler said at the time.

Chanel 2’s calls to east side setnetters weren't returned Friday.

At KRSA, Gease disagrees with the setnetters’ position, saying the efficiency of both fisheries has been reduced.

“If you allowed either one of them to go full-bore as a normal fishery we would quickly chew up the 4,000 kings that we have for available surplus,” Gease said.

Fish and Game says the step-down measures could be worse, with closed beaches and catch-and-release fishing on the Kenai.

Also new in fishing news: Keeping kings will be prohibited for the dip net fishery opening July 10 on the Kenai.

Fish and Game asks anyone who has any questions about the new emergency orders to contact the department directly at its local offices.