Kenai River king salmon fishing closed for the rest of the season

Managers announce restrictions in commercial fisheries and on the Kasilof River


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Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers announced a closure of the Kenai River king salmon fishery Thursday after continued low counts of fish returning to the river.

The closure, effective Saturday, triggers a closure of commercial setnet fishing on the east side of Cook Inlet and is meant to conserve Kenai-bound king salmon, which are not currently projected to return in large enough numbers to make the escapement goal on the Kenai River.

As of July 23, the sonar estimate of king salmon passage into the Kenai River was 8,023 fish and current projections put the final escapement between 13,500 and 14,000 fish — below the river’s escapement goal of 15,000-30,000 fish.

Daily estimates of king salmon passage into the river have remained in the low hundreds of fish — the highest passage to date was Sunday when more than 1,000 fish passed the sonar. Counts have since dropped significantly.

Fish and Game sport fish division area management biologist Robert Begich said the high passage on Sunday helped bump projections upward but continued low counts kept projections lower than what is needed to make the escapement goal.

Begich said projections would have to increase dramatically for the fishery to be reopened.

“If 5,000 kings came into the river overnight, if a miracle happened, yeah we’d turn it back on,” he said. “We just want to make the goal and it’s just a day-to-day thing. It’s going to take a lot to (reopen).”

Managers also announced restrictions for the king salmon fishery on the nearby Kasilof River. Beginning Saturday, anglers will be restricted to catch-and-release fish for Kasilof River king salmon.

An additional emergency order closed sportfishing for king salmon in the Cook Inlet saltwater north of Bluff Point.

Commercial set gillnetting in the East Side setnet fishery is closed unless the setnet fleet is fishing in a narrow beach area around the mouth of the Kasilof River known as the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area.

Commercial drift gillnetting is closed within one mile of the Kenai Peninsula shoreline north of the Kenai River and within 1.5 miles of the shoreline south of the Kenai River.

All of the king salmon restrictions expire on July 31 — the regulatory end of the late run of Kenai River king salmon.

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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