Kenai River Is Closed for Kings

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by Russ Slaten

Much of Alaska is seeing a weak return of king salmon to its waters. One river in which it affects nearly all forms of fishing is the Kenai. The Kenai River-- known for the world record king salmon it produces-- will see the height of restrictions beginning on Thursday.

The sport fishery is closed, setnet commercial fishing is closed and dipnetters are banned from keeping any kings.

There is no catch and release or targeting of kings in the Kenai as of midnight Thursday. King salmon accidently caught may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately.

US Fish and Wildlife closed subsistence fishing in the Kenai on Monday. Based on records dating back to the early 80s, state officials said this year may be the worst year for king salmon returns ever.

Escapement goals must be met in order for salmon to spawn and create future runs, state biologists said.

June's first king salmon run saw a similar result with numbers far below escapement goals.

Sport fishermen said they were not surprised with the closure. Before the ban the Kenai River was restricted to no-bait and catch and release fishing.

Executive Director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association Ricky Gease said although fishing is closed, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game managed the Kenai the way it should.

"Over the next summer and fall they're gonna come up with a research plan that looks for gaps in information about why this is happening on a statewide basis. I'm sure there will be some special funding in front of the legislature next year to put the best minds towards this issue and think about why we're having low returns statewide," said Gease.

According to the state, 40 percent of the king salmon late-run was complete as of Monday. The state estimates a little of 4000 late-run kings have passed into the Kenai River. Projections estimate only 10,000 to 16,000 kings will make it, well below the minimum escapement goal of at least 17,800 king salmon.

State officials also closed the Kasilof River to king salmon fishing, along with sport fishing for kings in Upper Cook Inlet.

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