King Salmon On the Kenai 1984 to 2018 & videos

Is the reign of Kenai Kings over?

Once upon a time GIANT KING salmon were caught on the Kenai River.  In 1985 the largest King ever recorded was landed by Les Anderson weighing 97.5 pounds. The word got out and fisherman arrived in multiplying numbers. In the 1980’s and 1990’s Large Chinook “King” salmon were regularly caught on the Kenai River.    Both Alaska residents and sport fishers from around the world competed for the largest Kings.

Statistical Evidence of Fisherman Numbers  

These Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics show number and percent of Alaska Sport fish Licenses. (Resident/Non-resident in 5 year increments, 1961-2011)

Year Resident NonResident Total
Number Percent Number Percent
1961 41,120 74.0 14,444 26.0 55,564
1965 48,421 71.3 109,483 28.7 67,904
1970 71,711 63.20 41,683 36.8 113,394
1975 101,900 69.0 45,821 31.0 147,721
1980 132,103 63.9 74,699 36.1 206,802
1985 176,725 58.2 127,077 41.8 303,802
1990 180,214 49.6 182,779 50.4 362,993
1995 176,428 42.6 238,021 57.4 414,449
2000 177,700 38.7 280,939 61.3 458,639
2005 188,697 36.3 331,570 63.7 520,267
2011 185,685 41.8 258,840 58.2 444,525


Better Ways to Fish

Anglers for Kings didn’t just find fish holes and resting places on the Kenai River, they learned where the fish spawned and where they were vulnerable. The spawning areas in the Kenai were not protected in the early fishery years.  The river habitat was degrading as powerful boats sought after the Kings.  Alaskans took notice.  In 1984, the Alaska Legislature created a 105-mile long unit of Alaska State Parks to maintain riverine habitat. And then in 1987, boats were limited to 35 horsepower on most of the Kenai River. The Kenai River Sport fishing Association came to be leaders in lobbying for designing and building stream bank protection.

Guided and unguided fisherman fish Cook Inlet to catch the Kings before they enter the river.  Set net fishers, along the edges of Cook Inlet, regularly catch Kings as they swim in with the late run Red Salmon. Commercial fishermen while fishing for Red Salmon catch Kings as bycatch.  Whether  by hook, set net or seine net “Kings” are a prize when caught.  With the many methods  and many fishers it is no wonder  the number of  fish and size of the King Salmon are less and smaller.  (Chihuly, Anchorage Daily News, 2017)

In 1984, WonderVisions made a video about fishing on the Kenai showing frustrations of the sport fishers and commercial fisherman.  View the program through this link.

WonderVisions updates information about the Kenai Fishery with this video viewable with this link.

Current Science questions are:

Are our oceans are overfished? Or What are the economics of fishing the high seas?

What effect hatchery released fish have on the oceans biomass? Or what are the numbers and Biomass of Natural and Hatchery-Origin Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon, and Sockeye Salmon in the North Pacific Ocean?

Have we already lost a sustainable King Salmon fishery?

More to Come….By Liz O’Connell