A dire shortage of returning silver salmon prompted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Wednesday to shutter Knik Management Area fisheries to angling, including catch and release. The stocked Eklutna Tailrace fishery is the exception.
Among the lousy returns that sparked the action:
• Little Susitna River: Only 2,587 silvers had passed the weir through Tuesday, leading biologists to project less than double that number will eventually reach the spawning grounds. That's far below the minimum goal of 10,100 fish they aim to get upstream in order to perpetuate strong runs. The weak run marks the fourth consecutive year of miserable silver returns to the Little Su. Not since 2008 has the minimum spawning goal been met.
• Fish Creek: Only 347 silvers have passed the weir, suggesting to biologists that the minimum escapement goal of 1,200 fish won't be met there either.
• Jim Creek: The lack of a weir makes a good count impossible, but Fish and Game staffers have surveyed anglers, found the fishing poor, and concluded there are "fewer fish than optimal present for achieving the escapement goal."
"Escapement" is the number of fish escaping commercial fishing nets in Cook Inlet and anglers on Inlet streams to reach the spawning grounds.
The weir at the Deshka River, a popular stream west of Wasilla and traditionally one one the area's best silver fisheries, is also showing a very weak run. Fish and Game has counted only 5,473 silvers to date.
A year ago, an additional 1,300 silvers had passed by the same time. There were about 10,000 reaching their spawning beds upstream the prior year.
The creeks now closed are Fish Creek, Wasilla Creek (Rabbit Slough), Cottonwood Creek, and Jim Creek. The Little Susitna had been closed Aug. 10 and will remain closed.
Further closures could be coming on upstream tributaries to the Susitna River, including the Deshka, if more fish don't start showing up soon.