ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Department of Fish and Game biologists are closing the Kenai River to red salmon fishing Thursday out of concern that the sockeye run may fall short of spawning goals.
Fishing on the Kenai will be closed at 4:01 p.m.
A sportfishing organization, Cook Inlet Sportfishing Caucus, said fish managers wrongly assumed the late-arriving red run would be stronger and that they should have restricted Cook Inlet commercial fishermen sooner.
Even though driftnetters and setnetters were targeting salmon bound for the nearby Kasilof River, which had a huge run this year, those fishermen surely scooped up scarcer Kenai reds in the process, said Phil Cutler, caucus spokesman.
''I think Fish and Game made the call late,'' Cutler told the Anchorage Daily News.
State biologists acknowledge they probably did, but say all their usual indicators -- the sonar fish counter, dipnetter success, strong red runs elsewhere, observations of fish moving on the tides, even a state test fishing boat -- suggested the Kenai run was healthier than it was.
Area commercial fishing biologist Jeff Fox said he now expects the Kenai red run will fall well short of 2 million fish this summer, down from the predicted 2.5 million. Commercial fishermen caught a little under 900,000.
While the red run was weaker than forecast, the Kenai offered quality sportfishing in July, guides and anglers said. And there are nearly enough spawners to reach state's minimum goal of 500,000 fish.
As of Monday, 525,000 reds had passed the state's Kenai River sonar counter. Biologists estimate that anglers upstream of the counter hooked about 100,000 of them.
That leaves the system lacking 75,000 salmon as the short-lived run trickles to a close.
''We're approaching the end of the run, and we can't say with confidence (that) if we kept the fishery open we'd be able to meet the minimum escapement goal,'' said Mark Gamblin, area sportfishing management biologist.
Last year's red salmon run was closed to sportfishing on Aug. 8, also out of concern about spawners.
The Russian River, including the Kenai River fly-fishing spot near the ferry crossing, will remain open as usual. Enough salmon are reaching the upper Russian's spawning tributaries, Gamblin said.
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