Abysmal king salmon returns to the Kenai River already have fisheries managers curtailing fishing in one of Alaska's most popular fisheries -- and wondering what's next.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game ordered closures on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for personal-use and sport fishermen Tuesday.
"When you look at numbers going to the Kenai, it's alarming," area commercial fisheries biologist Pat Shields said Tuesday. "It's forced our hands."
Beginning Thursday, the Kenai River from the mouth upstream to Skilak Lake will be closed to king salmon fishing. King salmon may not be targeted or retained. Fish cannot be removed from the water if accidently hooked.
Also closed is the personal-use set gillnet fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River. That fishery, though limited in size because of space restrictions in the area, is considered a counterpart to the Kenai River personal use dip net fishery -- some people prefer to use boats and small set nets rather than wading through the water with dip nets.
That 10-day fishery opened June 15 and was set to go until June 24. By cutting the period to fish in half, biologist Shields estimates about 50 king salmon -- some of which could make it to the Kenai -- will be saved.
"Yes, we're closing a popular fishery to save a handful of kings," Shields said.
Early-run king salmon -- the first group to pass through the Kenai -- are about 60 percent through their run, according to Fish and Game. As of Tuesday, the cumulative estimate of king salmon to have passed by the sonar at river Mile 8.9 was 969 fish. By this date during last year's lousy run, 3,575 fish had passed the same spot.
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