It's time for lower Kenai River bank fisherman to switch from flies to spoons, because as of Friday pink and silver salmon will be allowed, but sportfishing for sockeye salmon will close, potentially for the remainder of the year.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Wednesday, that will close the sockeye salmon sport fishery, from River Mile 19 downstream to the mouth, from 12:01 a.m. Friday though 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31.
"The closure prohibits all sport fishing for sockeye salmon, including catch-and-release fishing. All sockeye salmon incidentally caught in the area closed to sockeye salmon fishing may not be retained or possessed, and must be released immediately," the Fish and Game press release said.
Robert Begich, Fish and Game area sportfish manager, said they will spread the word of the closure through signs and enforcement.
"We'll be putting up signs at shore angler access locations and boat launches, and we'll be running the river on Friday," he said.
The sport fishery is the second fishery to fall due to the poor return of sockeye to the Kenai River. Commercial fishing for the Kenai River drift net fleet and east side setnetters also recently was limited because of the sagging salmon numbers.
As to the Kenai River personal-use salmon dipnet fishery, it is scheduled to close by regulation at 11 p.m. today, so it will not effect this season.
Justification for the sport fishery closure stems from Fish and Game fears that there will be insufficient numbers of sockeye making it past the sonar station at Mile 19, to reach their in-river goal of 750,000 to 950,000 sockeye. As of Tuesday, the sockeye sonar passage estimate was 22,139 for the day, and 400,162 cumulatively in the late run.
Fish and Game is closely monitoring the sockeye return and will take further management actions as necessary to meet their in-river goal and the optimum escapement goal. These management actions may include further restrictions to the fisheries with short notice.
"Or, it would take a lot of fish, but if the run strength significantly increases, management actions could include rescinding the restrictions placed on the fisheries," Begich said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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