The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon

By William S. Morris III

Chairman and CEO/Morris Communications Co.

For many years we have watched the ebb and flow of salmon in Alaska’s waters; in particular, the great king salmon and the world’s greatest salmon fishery, the Kenai River.

Salmon of all types play a major role in the life and well-being of our state. They provide food, subsistence, income, commercial activity and sport. 

Fortunately, in general, salmon are a prolific species. They reproduce in large numbers in the rivers and streams of Alaska. They remain in those rivers and streams for an early part of their lives and then they return to the same rivers and streams where they were born to reproduce and die. Salmon stay in the ocean for several years and are preyed upon and affected by many forces — some are known to us, some are not.

Salmon are impacted by many factors both manmade — commercial, sport and subsistence fishing, as well as industrial activities as we have seen in the Pacific Northwest — and ocean conditions that may be outside our control. 

All species of salmon are important for different reasons but none is more important than the great king salmon. This fish grows to large sizes and is truly considered a trophy fish. Most anglers would rather catch a king salmon than any other kind.

For Alaska Natives, the king salmon is both sacred culturally and vital for subsistence during harsh winters in remote villages. For many years on the mighty Yukon River, and more recently on the Kuskokwim River, Alaska Natives have endured severe harvest restrictions as state managers attempt to pass enough kings to the spawning grounds in addition to meeting our treaty obligations with Canada.

The meat of king salmon is considered to be the tastiest of all and many sport fishermen consider them to be the best fighting fish and the most fun to catch. 

Because they are both a preferred fish and trophy fish, many are caught and not reported. Likewise, many are caught by setnetters and driftnetters and never reported; the amount of king salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries also is uncertain because not every tow and delivery is observed, which prevents a full census as well as the robust genetic sampling needed to understand the river of origin for those salmon. 

Therefore, the job of getting accurate data on the amount of king salmon killed is difficult. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game attempts to measure these numbers as best it can. Over the years, it has tried various counting methods. For the past two years the department has used a new sonar counter its biologists believe will provide the best data going forward. The department first tested the new counter for three years from 2009-11, but there has been controversy over its accuracy. We will deal with this subject in this series.

Because of the tremendous importance of this wonderful species of salmon and because of the decline in their numbers, the newspapers owned by the Morris Communications Corp. are presenting a 10-part series entitled, “The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon.”

The purpose of the series is to find the facts and put them into simple and easy to understand terms in the public domain. We hope that this series can make a major difference in the long-term growth, management and sustainability of this great fish.

This series will cover the history of Cook Inlet king salmon including its economic and social value; an examination of salmon abundance statewide and the forces and factors impacting them; how the state is doing in managing salmon, the regulators who make the rules and the agencies that implement them; and the necessary actions to conserve the declining numbers of king salmon. 

We hope you will find the series interesting, helpful and worthwhile. We welcome comments from readers. Please submit them to


Morris Communications’ history in Alaska dates back to 1969 when the company purchased the Juneau Empire. Today, the company also owns and operates Alaska Magazine, The Milepost, Where Alaska, the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Capital City Weekly, the Chugiak-Eagle River Star, the Homer News and the Peninsula Clarion. The company also owns and operates six radio stations in Anchorage — KBEAR 104.1, KWHL 106.5, MIX 103.1, KOOL 97.3, KFQD 750, KHAR 590 and 96.7 — and KAYO 100.9 in Wasilla.