A dismal Alaska salmon season got drearier when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Monday announced the closure of the entire Kenai River to all king salmon fishing effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The river had already been restricted to catch-and-release only for kings. The latest restriction will remain in effect through June 30 for the entire river and through July 31 for the river upstream of a Fish and Game marker near Slikok Creek.
The decision was made due to an extremely poor return of early run kings to the popular sportfishing river, which as of June 17 had just 2,182 of the prized fish swimming past the department's sonar counter near river mile 14. The optimal escapement goal for the early run of Kenai kings is 3,900 to 6,600 "large" kings, meaning fish longer than 75 centimeters (or about 30 inches).
"This closure is not an easy decision," wrote Cook Inlet management coordinator Matt Miller in a statement issued Monday. "King salmon stocks throughout Cook Inlet, including the Kenai River runs, are experiencing a period of low productivity and the restrictions and closures are being felt across the state."
Kings have been trickling into the Kenai at a paltry rate: On June 16, just 18 were counted by sonar.
Poor king salmon returns to Cook Inlet have already forced the department to close the Ninilchik, Anchor River and Deep Creek drainages to king salmon fishing and restrict the Kasilof River to catch-and-release for wild king salmon.
The department did give anglers something to be optimistic about Monday, opening the Russian River "sanctuary" area at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian at 8 a.m. Tuesday to sockeye fishing after estimating the river near Cooper Landing will meet its early run sockeye escapement goal. The department said sockeye fishing is expected to be "good to excellent" near the confluence for the next several days.