By Sean Pearson
So, let’s be totally honest here.
If you’ve been paying any kind of attention to the king salmon this season — both early and late runs — this latest closure shouldn’t really come as any kind of surprise.
Once known as a world-class king salmon fishery, fishing for Kenai River kings this year came to an abrupt end — before the first lure ever hit the water.
Back in February, long before fishing season officially opened on May 1, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the early run king salmon fishery on the Kenai, and placed restrictions on king fishing in lower Cook Inlet streams and marine waters, as well as the Kasilof River.
According to an ADF&G Feb. 27 release, Kenai River king salmon, as well as other king salmon stocks throughout Cook Inlet, were noted to be “experiencing a period of low productivity.”
Not much has changed since then — despite restrictions put in place to limit king salmon harvest.
“As of July 23, the cumulative sonar estimate of king salmon passage into the Kenai River was 8,023 fish,” the latest ADF&G news release noted.
The department manages the Kenai River late king salmon run to ensure a sustainable escapement goal of 15,000-30,000 fish. Recent projections of spawning escapement reportedly stabilized at an estimate of 13,500 to 14,500 fish, indicating the sustainable escapement goal will not be achieved.
Subsequently, sport fishing for king salmon on the Kenai River and in salt waters of Cook Inlet, north of Bluff Point, closed Saturday, and will remain closed through July 31.
The closure prohibits all sport fishing for king salmon, including catch-and-release fishing. King salmon may not be retained or possessed, and any king salmon caught while fishing for other species may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately.
The Kasilof River is currently restricted to catch-and-release fishing for king salmon through 11:59 p.m., tomorrow, July 31.
“Based on the similarities in the low-run strength of king salmon stocks to both the Kasilof and Kenai rivers in 2014, it is likely the Kasilof late run of king salmon is also experiencing a well-below-average run,” ADF&G noted.
Because the emergency order to close the late-run sport fishery in the Kenai River drainage would likely result in an increase in the sport fishing effort and catch of king salmon in the Kasilof River, the department said restriction is warranted to conserve Kasilof River late-run king salmon.
Anglers are reminded that bait/scent and multiple hooks are still prohibited on the Kasilof River from the mouth upstream to the Sterling Highway Bridge.
For information of inseason assessment of Kenai River king salmon, go to www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishCounts/index.cfm?ADFG=main.kenaiChinook.
On July 25, Upper Cook Inlet Commercial Fisheries staff estimated the total Kenai River sockeye salmon run to date to be 1.9 million fish. The final run to the Kenai River is projected to range from 2.7 million to 4.3 million sockeye salmon.
The entire UCI sockeye salmon run to date was estimated to be 4.0 million fish through July 24, with a final run projected to range from 4.8 million to 7.2 million fish.
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