Businesses say Kenai River king salmon closure will hurt

Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- Rick Giannini of Liverpool, N.Y., traveled to the Kenai Peninsula with friends to celebrate their 50th birthdays by catching Kenai River kings.

To their dismay, they found that Kenai kings were no longer available.

''We went into the gas station to buy our (king) salmon stamps, and we saw the headline in the newspaper,'' Giannini said Tuesday.

Giannini's disappointment mirrored the reaction of many visitors and business owners.

While some are optimistic the peninsula will survive the closing of the Kenai to early-run king salmon fishing, others say it has pulled the plug on the beginning of an already shaky tourism season.

''It's going to be a pretty devastating effect,'' said guide Tim Berg, who owns Alaskan Fishing Adventures in Soldotna. ''What's happened in the past, people think the whole Kenai Peninsula is closed. So we don't get the tourists from Outside. People don't come down for halibut fishing, as well.''

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Monday the Kenai River would be closed to fishing for chinooks because of a weak run, the second lowest on record.

Because the central peninsula's economy depends so heavily on sportfishing during summer months, there could be a backlash to 20 days without king fishing, said Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Brett Huber.

''Seventy percent of all sportfishing in Alaska is in Southcentral,'' he said, referring to Alaska Department of Fish and Game numbers. ''And 70 percent of sportfishing in Southcentral is on the Kenai.

''What you're going to see are campgrounds that don't have people. You're going to see it at grocery stores, hotels and gas stations. I don't think any sector of our economy is sheltered from this.''

Bill Wirin owns the Salmon Haus Bed and Breakfast in Soldotna. He does not anticipate any additional guests for the remainder of June because of the river closing.

''Many times in June, people decide at the last minute to come from Anchorage,'' he said. ''I think we'll see people going other places on the peninsula, but not coming to Soldotna. It certainly will mean we won't pick up any drop-in guests.''

Ken Lacy, owner of Ken's Alaska Tackle in Soldotna, was concerned about the revenue in the store.

''I'm down about 60 percent in sales today,'' he said. ''There was a massive drop in license sales, king tag sales and tackle sales. Normally today, I should have sold 60 licenses. I only did 14.''

Although fishermen are displeased with the closing, they acknowledge the importance of preserving the resource.

''We're disappointed that the run is so poor, but we also support the closure,'' Huber said.

Alternatives to the Kenai River include the Anchor River, which will be open from Saturday to Monday, and the Ninilchik River, which also will be open on the weekend and the weekend of June 22 and 23 for hatchery fish, identified by a clipped adipose fin.

The Kasilof River is another fishery open to kings, but diverted chinook anglers are loading up the river. Soldotna guide Leif Jacobsen said there was a line of trucks waiting to get drift boats into the river Tuesday morning.

''Today, I got there at 4 in the morning, and I had to wait two hours to get to the boat ramp,'' he said.

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