The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released an emergency order Wednesday closing sport fishing in certain areas of the southern Kenai Peninsula.
King salmon runs have been down in Cook Inlet for the past few years. On the lower Kenai Peninsula, the Anchor River has suffered from low returns.
Carol Kerkvliet is the assistant area management biologist for Fish and Game. She says this season got off to a rough start.
“We started out this season with pre-season emergency orders that restricted the fisheries—the in-river fisheries and the marine fisheries," says Kerkvliet.
And so far, there hasn’t been much improvement.
“The Anchor River was scheduled to open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and that would be the last weekend it would be open," says Kerkvliet. "Now, that fishery has been closed by emergency order.”
The order covers sport fishing on the Anchor River drainage from its mouth upstream to its north and south forks. It also prohibits taking kings between Bluff Point and the mouth of the Ninilchik River within one mile of shore.
According to Fish and Game, any accidental catches of kings must be released immediately and may not be removed from the water. The order states the offshore saltwater closure is to protect local spawning kings migrating through the area. These mature kings are more likely to be caught close to the shore than the immature, non-local fish.
Kerkvliet says the restrictions on the Anchor River, however, are part of an ongoing pattern. Fish and Game cites 2009 as the turning point for the Anchor, describing its runs since then as “well below average.”
Kerkvliet says there is a sustainable escapement goal for kings in that area. The range is 3,800 to 10,000 fish.
“We would expect 29% of the escapement would be counted, on average," she says. "Right now, by June 9th, there were 900 king salmon counted.”
Should that level hold steady throughout the season, it would mean a count that’s about a thousand fish shy of the lowest end of the goal.
The emergency restrictions will remain in effect through midnight June 30th.