Kenai River king run remains poor

Posted: Friday, June 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Kenai River's early run of king salmon is the weakest on record, and state biologists say fishing restrictions will continue well into July.

The river has been closed to king fishing most of June, and word that more bad news is on the way deepened a sense of gloom among fishing guides, tackle shop owners, fish processors and hotel managers. Business is down. Guides have begun talking about seeking financial aid from the state.

''We're dying,'' said Stephanie Green, manager of the Kenai River Lodge in Soldotna. ''It's everybody down here. Everybody down here is suffering.''

This week, fisheries managers are developing plans to impose more limits in the next few days to protect the few early-run kings that reach Kenai tributaries like Slikok Creek and Killey River.

''All I can tell you is we are going to take additional steps that will restrict the late-run fishery for the purpose of saving as many early run spawners as we can,'' said Mark Gamblin, area sportfishing management biologist.

The state's minimum spawning goal for early run kings is 7,200, and projections indicate only 5,800 of the fish will spawn unless more is done.

The Kenai's famous king salmon arrive in two waves. An early king run lasts from May through June, and a larger number of kings hit the river in July. The dividing line between the two runs is July 1, when fishing ordinarily gets easier because there are normally more fish in the river and the state allows bait.

Guides are preparing for more unwelcome news through mid-July, even a continued fishing closure in the middle river, said Joe Connors, president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association.

''This king thing is really taking its toll on the community,'' Connors said. ''It's a disaster when you close the Kenai River down to a certain species, and it is multiplied by restrictions on the Kasilof'' River.

In an effort to satisfy clients, Kenai River guides have been jamming their boats onto the smaller Kasilof. Partly because of that pressure, the state last week put limits on the Kasilof to protect the fish stream's small native king run.

Connors said his organization plans to approach Kenai Peninsula political leaders to consider a plea to Gov. Tony Knowles for financial aid for guides, hotels, tackle shops, hardware stores, restaurants and fish processors.

''We're at a point where we're concerned about what's going on, and there's some people who are really, really strapped,'' Connors said.

People who had hoped to fish for kings are stopping by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce's visitor information center to see what else they can do, said director Justine Polzin. They've been told about hiking, canoeing and trying other fish streams.

''There's more to offer here than just fishing, and now with the reds coming in, that always helps,'' Polzin said.

The Russian River has been a bright spot, with anglers earlier in the week reporting good luck bagging their three-fish limits. As of Wednesday, the state said 30,700 reds had reached the Upper Russian Lake's spawning streams and the spawning goal of 37,000 is well within reach.

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