The bad news everyone had been waiting for on the Kenai River came late Thursday.
Sport fishing for late-run Kenai king salmon is being shut down in the river, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the consequences will ripple out into Cook Inlet to force closure of some commercial fisheries as well.
At one minute after midnight Friday, the river will close for kings for the rest of the year, the agency announced. The sport fishery closure, according to the state Board of Fisheries management plan, also triggers closures of commercial setnet fisheries on beaches along the east shore of Cook Inlet and forces the boats of drift gillnetters farther offshore.
The Commercial Fisheries Division of Fish and Game issued an emergency order closing “set gillnetting in the Kenai, Kasilof and East Foreland Sections of the Upper Subdistrict until further notice. In addition, the drift gillnet fishery in the Central District of Upper Cook Inlet is closed within one mile of the Kenai Peninsula shoreline north of the Kenai River and within one and a half miles of the Kenai Peninsula shoreline south of the Kenai River.
The problem for everyone is a weak return of late-run Kenai kings. Though the commercial fishermen are targeting red salmon, which appear to be coming back strong, their bycatch of king salmon is high enough that biologists have concluded that if their nets were left in the water, the weak king run would suffer.
As the situation stood Thursday, only about 8,000 of a needed minimum of 15,000 spawning fish are in the river, and the latest computer projection — based on modeling of past runs — puts the expected return at 13,000 to 14,000 fish even with further catches eliminated.
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