If current trends continue, The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that fewer than half of the Kenai River early run king salmon needed to make the escapement goal will end up in the river.
To combat the shortfall the department issued restrictions on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in an attempt to conserve as many Kenai River-bound king salmon as possible.
Local area biologist Robert Begich said the department estimates between 1,500 to 2,500 king salmon will return to the Kenai River, far fewer than the optimal escapement goal range of 5,300 to 9,000 fish.
As of June 18, fewer than 1,100 fish have been counted inriver, down from 3,575 on the same date in 2012 and 5,899 in 2011.
While the department’s preseason outlook for the early run was not promising — a forecast of 5,300 fish caused the department to restrict the early run to catch-and-release in early May — Begich said the run was shaping up to be the worst on record.
Approximately 57 percent of the early-run of Kenai River king salmon has passed the department’s inriver sonar, based on a 10-year average run-timing and while there are indications that king salmon runs throughout the Cook Inlet may be later than normal, inseason projections indicate that the early run escapement goal will still not be made according to one of the emergency orders.
On the Kenai:
■ The early-run fishery will close for ten days beginning Thursday and continuing through June 30. In the river from its mouth upstream to Skilak Lake, and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway bridge no king salmon of any size may be targeted, kept or removed from the water. Any king salmon caught must be released immediately.
■ From July 1 through July 14, king salmon fishing will be closed from the Fish and Game marker about 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok Creek, upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge.
On the Kasilof:
■ Beginning Thursday and continuing through June 30, anglers may not use bait and multiple hooks on the Kasilof River from its mouth upstream to the Sterling Highway. Anglers may use only one unbaited, single hook —one point, with or without a barb— with an artificial lure. Previous restrictions to the Kasilof which allowed anglers to retain only hatcher-reared king salmon remain in effect.
■ Beginning Thursday, the Upper Cook Inlet personal-use set gillnet fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River will also be closed to conserve Kenai River king salmon which may be caught in the fishery.
Area biologist Pat Shields said the personal-use setnet fishery typically opens from June 15 through June 24 and while biologists are uncertain how many of the kings caught in the Kasilof — an average of 196 over the last 10 years — are Kenai River-bound, the king salmon run is low enough that a closure was warranted.
“We have assumed that the majority of them are the Kasilof River kings but, undoubtedly there are some early run king salmon in there. The department felt that saving every king that we could was needed at this time,” he said.
Elsewhere in the Cook Inlet, an abundance of sockeye salmon has lead the department to open the Russian River Sanctuary beginning June 19.
The sanctuary area includes waters upstream from Fish and Game markers downstream of the ferry crossing on the Kenai River to the Fish and Game markers about 300 yards upstream of the public boat launch at Sportsman’s Landing and includes the waters around the upstream end of the island near the Russian River mouth and the Russian River from its mouth upstream 100 yards to the Fish and Game marker. The bag limit of three sockeye will stay the same and according to the media release. Anglers are reminded to remove fish carcasses whole or gutted and gilled from the Russian River clear water, or take fish to the main stem Kenai River cleaning tables near the ferry crossing.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at email@example.com.