Alaska may have the most actively managed fisheries in the world. There is tremendous pressure put on these fisheries by a large number of diverse user groups. These user groups include commercial fishing, subsistence fishing, personal use fishing, and sport fishing to name a few. To make matters even more complex, these fish migrate through international waters which increases management complexity. The best methodology to understand the health of each population is to count the number of returning fish each year – this is what is known as fish counts.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game, including federal agencies and non-governmental organizations, operate weirs, towers, and different types of sonar units around the state to count returning salmon populations. As the salmon return each summer, the salmon are counted, literally as close to 1 by 1 as possible, and should projections not meet minimum numbers, or exceed should they be expected to significantly exceed maximum numbers, changes can be administered to restrict or sometimes even liberalize the fisheries.
Alaska Fish Counts
Want to know more about fish counts on the Kenai River and throughout Alaska? Download the Alaska FishTopia Mobile App. All graphs and information presented on these pages are courtesy of Alaska FishTopia!
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Alaska Fish Counts
Catching some of Alaska’s legendary salmon is on many people’s bucket list. You may even be interested in spending the majority of your vacation chasing the salmon and you wouldn’t be alone. Throughout the summer months from about mid-May until the end of September, there’s always something to catch in our rivers, streams, and saltwater. If you’ve got your heart set on catching a specific species or wanting to be fishing at the peak of a particular spawning migration then timing is everything. Alaska Salmon fishing is all about understanding the Alaska salmon run timing.
Know Your Fishing Goals
It’s important to understand your goals, such as which species of fish you’re interested in catching. Each of Alaska’s rivers and the different species of salmon that migrate up them all have unique timing. Are you interested in a quick easy halibut trip to catch 40-50 lb fish? Or, are you interested in a much more adventurous and longer trip and a shot at some “barn doors?”
Are you more interested in sockeye salmon or would you rather target one of the Kenai River’s legendary king salmon? Do you want a freezer full of fish for the winter or the epic trophy king salmon of a lifetime? Maybe you’d like to target some of the trophy trout and steelhead that are year-round residents of our rivers and streams. Want a shot at seeing bears fishing for salmon?
Understanding these goals is really important to give yourself the best chance of being successful. Timing it properly is crucial.
Fish Counts & Escapement Goals
The main purpose of fish counts is not for sport fishing purposes. The main purpose is to give a reliable count on the total number of fish that have entered the river, for each species & river, that will have the opportunity to spawn. This is the primary tool used to understand short-term and long-term trends when it comes to the health of the fishery, the total number of spawners each year, and total number of salmon returning. When combined with commercial fishing harvests this even helps to understand mortality rates in the ocean to some extent.
For most of the major rivers and species of salmon that return to Alaska each year, daily fish counts are monitored and both minimum and maximum sustainable annual “escapement” goals are set. Escapement simply means the total number of fish that have returned to the rivers to spawn. This is the primary tool used by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to manage the fishery “in-season.”
Understanding Escapement Goals
For each species of fish and river, minimum and maximum escapement goals are established. The goal is to have the total number of fish spawning fall between the minimum and maximum escapement goals.
If the total number of fish escaping (spawning) is between the minimum and maximum numbers, then it’s believed that the fishery is healthy and sustainable. If the minimum number is not expected to be reached then restrictions to the fishery might be enacted. This comes in the form of emergency orders that limit the number each person can catch a day, move the fishery to catch-and-release only, and possibly removing the ability to target that particular species of fish.
If the maximum number of fish is expected to be exceeded or has been exceeded, this means that it may be possible to increase the number of fish that can be taken by all the different user groups. An example of this can be seen in the 2021 Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon. The minimum escapement goal was achieved on July 31st and by August 3rd even the maximum escapement goal had been achieved. Alaska Department of Fish and Game moved the daily limit from 3 sockeye salmon per day per angler to 6. This is not only to increase the ability to harvest the sockeye but also to minimize biological strain on the river and to improve survivability.
Kenai Peninsula Fish Counts
Want to know more about the fish counts on the Kenai Peninsula? Follow the links below to learn about the fish counts and when to fish all of the Kenai Peninsula’s major rivers and salmon species. Kenai River King Salmon (early run / late run), Kenai River Sockeye Run, Russian River Sockeye (early-late), Anchor River Chinook, Ninilchik River Chinook, Deep Creek Chinook