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Slow king runs prompt closure of three Kenai Peninsula rivers

Courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Slow king salmon runs are prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to close three popular rivers to sport fishing on the southern Kenai Peninsula.

Sport fishing in Deep Creek and on the Anchor and Ninilchik rivers will be closed starting midnight on June 2. The closures will run through July 15. The department also closed sport fishing for kings in salt water within 1 mile of shore from Bluff Point to the Ninilchik River.

Fish and Game Area Management Biologist Carol Kerkvilet cited the poor run on the Anchor River as the reasoning for closing all three popular streams. Kerkvilet explains that during weak runs, roughly 420 kings on average pass through the department’s two monitoring sites by the end of May.

“By the end of May, a weak run has never materialized into a moderate or strong run,” she said. “At this point, we don’t anticipate, based on the fish counts, that we’ll reach the escapement goal.”

As of Thursday, the department had only counted about 100 kings in the Anchor River’s spawning grounds. Kerkvilet said fishing has also been slow at Deep Creek and on the Ninilchik River.

“I was up on those rivers last weekend and I received reports from anglers, and fishing was really slow, similar to what we’ve seen on the Anchor [River],” she added. “These streams are in close proximity to one another. When you close one or restrict one, we have to restrict all three of them because of transfer of effort to these other streams.”

King runs around the state have been on the decline, but Kerkvilet notes that it’s hard to say if the Anchor River’s poor run this year is a part of that larger trend. She said king runs on the river over the past three years have actually bucked trends elsewhere in the state.

“We’ve seen strong to moderate runs from [20]04 to 2008 and then years of weak runs from 2009 to 2014. It turned around in 2015, 2016 and 2017,” Kerkvilet explained.

Fish and Game has been monitoring escapement on the river since 2003. Escapement over the past three years averaged about 7,600 fish.

Kerkvilet said it’s still too early to say how far below the minimum escapement goal of 3,800 king salmon this year’s run will fall.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect new comments from Kerkvilet and additional information from Fish and Game.

Aaron Bolton has moved on to a new position in Montana; he is no longer KBBI News Director. KBBI is currently seeking a News Director, and Kathleen Gustafson is filling in for the time being.