As of today, fishing is no longer king on the Kenai River.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced an emergency order Monday closing the Kenai River to all sportfishing, including catch-and-release, for kings of all sizes. The order took effect at 12:01 this morning.
A weak run of early-run kings prompted the closure.
The projected run for the season was fewer than 6,500 fish, less than the escapement goal range of between 7,200 and 14,400 fish.
Through Saturday, only 2,212 salmon had entered the river, well below the 10-year average of 6,400 fish through that date, Fish and Game said in a press release.
"The department has determined that due to this weak run, the lower end of the biological escapement goal (7,200 fish) cannot be achieved with a harvest fishery and might not be achieved under a catch-and-release fishery," the press release stated.
It was estimated that if the Kenai River were to remain open, the total escapement -- the number of fish that escaped harvest and were able to spawn -- would be less than 5,500.
Fish and Game biologists estimate about 400 fish had been harvested as of Sunday, and leaving the fishery open would be detrimental to future runs, said Larry Marsh, assistant area management biologist with the department.
"If this run were to stay on track, we suspect that we would have harvested just over 1,100 fish," he said. "(This) would result in us failing to reach our mandated biological escapement goal. We need to ensure that all the remaining fish coming into the river are able to reproduce."
Fish and Game seeks to end the season comfortably inside the range set for the goal, said Marsh.
"We don't want to consistently be near the bare minimum," he said. "And naturally, we don't want to always be near the top. We like to see them vary."
Marsh said it is possibly the fishery could be reopened before the end of the early run, which is June 30.
"If we see that this run really takes off and recovers," he said. "We would want to see daily numbers increase to the extent that it evidenced a return of at least 10,000 fish."
According to the press release, the department must project a minimum of 7,200 kings would escape to spawn to reopen the fishery.
Marsh said the 2000 run initially was restricted to catch-and-release of fish smaller than 52 inches, but that changed just before the end of the run.
"At the end of that season, we saw that we were going to be over our escapement goal, so we opened the fishery on the 27th," he said. "So it is conceivable, that this run could reopen."
This year's run is comparable to that of 1998, said Marsh.
"This season is very similar to 1998 where the final estimated in-river return was about 9,000 fish. If this season tracks along with '98 and we do see 9,000 fish, we would have a final escapement of about 8,400 fish," he said.
The in-river return last year was 16,676 kings with a harvest between 2,000 and 3,000 fish.
The order closes the Kenai River king sport fishery as follows:
The river from its mouth upstream to a regulatory marker near the confluence of the Funny River is closed to the taking of all sizes of king salmon from 12:01 a.m. today through 11:59 p.m. June 30.
The river upstream from a regulatory marker near the confluence of the Funny River to Skilak Lake is closed to the taking of all sizes of king salmon from 12:01 a.m. today through 11:59 p.m. July 9.
The Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway bridge is closed to the taking of all sizes of king salmon from 12:01 a.m. today through 11:59 p.m. July 9.
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