The Department of Fish and Game will close the Kenai River drainage for early run king salmon sport fishing this weekend.
In an announcement Thursday afternoon, the Kenai River from its mouth to the Soldotna Bridge will be closed Saturday at 12:01 a.m. until the end of the month. The river from the Soldotna Bridge upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake will be closed to king fishing Saturday at 12:01 a.m. and remain closed through 11:59 p.m. July 14. The Moose River will be closed from its confluence with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge from Saturday to July 14 as well.
According to Jason Pawluk, Fish and Game assistant area manager in Soldotna, the early run chinook escapement goal for the Kenai is anywhere between 5,300 to 9,000 fish before the end of June. Based on the current sonar counts of 739 kings that have swam up river since counts began May 16 and based on historic run timing, the escapement projection is 3,800.
"We're short 1,500 fish," he said.
Pawluk said that this is by far the lowest estimate for early run kings this time of year.
"It's tracking to be one of the lowest returns we've ever had. And that's with no harvest because we closed the fishery," he said.
Fish and Game is also restricting the retention of naturally produced king salmon on the Kasilof River this season.
Traditionally, by regulation anglers are allowed to retain wild kings, identified by the presence of an adipose fin, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Pawluk said.
Deep Creek, The Ninilchik and Anchor Rivers have also been closed to bait for the rest of the month, and the salt water closure adjacent to the Anchor has increased from one to two miles north and south of the river mouth and one mile offshore.
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