An Anchor River king salmon lies on the bank Saturday, May 19, 2018 in Anchor Point, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

An Anchor River king salmon lies on the bank Saturday, May 19, 2018 in Anchor Point, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Managers restrict Kenai late-run kings, setnets

Anglers won’t be able to use bait when the fishing for late-run Kenai River king salmon starts in July.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the preseason closure by emergency order on Thursday, to take effect at 12:01 a.m. July 1. Managers want to restrict harvest to help the run make the escapement goal, according to the emergency order.

The commercial set gillnet fishery on the east side of Cook Inlet, excluding the East Forelands, will also be restricted in accordance with the management plan, according to the order. Setnetters will get no more than 48 hours of fishing time per week, with a 36-hour “window” closure per week beginning between 7 p.m. Thursdays and 7 a.m. Fridays. Since all regularly scheduled periods on Mondays and Thurdays are no longer in effect in the Upper Subdistrict except for in the East Forelands, all fishing time will come by emergency order, according to a Division of Commercial Fisheries emergency order issued Friday.

Personal-use dipnet fishermen on the Kenai River won’t be allowed to keep kings either, according to the announcement.

“Without restrictions to harvest, the escapement goal for the Kenai River late-run king salmon is not expected to be achieved,” stated Cook Inlet Management Coordinator Matt Miller. “Consistent with the management plan, it is warranted to prohibit bait in the sport fishery to achieve the escapement goal and provide reasonable harvest opportunity. The management plan also indicates if bait is prohibited in this sport fishery than the personal use and commercial fishery also experience restrictions.”

Managers restricted and then closed the Kenai River early-run king salmon fishery in response to low returns. As of June 21, 2,387 large king salmon had passed the sonar on the Kenai River, as compared to 7,200 fish on the same date in 2017. The current projection for the run is significantly below the lower end of the optimum escapement goal, according to Fish and Game’s most recent inseason run summary.

King salmon runs are weak throughout Cook Inlet so far this year. Managers in Northern Cook Inlet closed the Susitna River and Little Susitna River sportfisheries to king salmon fishing entirely as well as the subsistence fishery for king salmon on the Yentna River, and commercial fishery managers closed the scheduled Monday period for setnetters in the Northern District to protect the king salmon stocks returning to northern streams.

The Anchor River, Ninlichik River and Deep Creek have all been closed since June 2, and anglers on the Kasilof River is restricted in both gear and harvest — they can only fish with unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure tackle and have a bag and possession limit of one hatchery-produced king salmon 20 inches or greater.

Salmon runs so far throughout the state are lagging by about 45 percent as of June 16, according to a seafood harvest update from the McDowell Group and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Sockeye salmon, pink salmon and king harvests are behind previous years while chum salmon harvests are up.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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