The top three fish of this year’s Winter King Salmon Tournament hang on a wall before a closing ceremony announcing the winners Saturday, March 24, 2018 on the Spit in Homer, Alaska. This year’s winning fish weighed 24.6 pounds. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

The top three fish of this year’s Winter King Salmon Tournament hang on a wall before a closing ceremony announcing the winners Saturday, March 24, 2018 on the Spit in Homer, Alaska. This year’s winning fish weighed 24.6 pounds. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Sport fishing closures shut down east side setnet commercial fishery

The king salmon sport fishing closures on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, as well as Cook Inlet north of Bluff Point, have also shut down the east side setnet commercial fishery until further notice.

According to the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan, when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closes late-run king salmon to sport anglers in the Kenai River system, it also closes the east side setnet commercial fishery because that fishery sometimes nets king salmon.

The king salmon sport fishing closure is effective 12:01 a.m. today through 11:59 p.m. on July 31.

Rick Green, the special assistant to the commissioner at the ADF&G, said that the east side setnetters do not only obtain a sockeye permit, but they fish for all salmon. Because kings are sometimes included in the east side setnetters’ harvest, that fishery is shut down.

“This has been a couple years that they’ve been hit by low escapement,” Green said.

The king salmon closures are due to the projected data that the species will not reach its escapement goal by the end of the late run. According to the sport fishing emergency orders from Fish and Game, between 15,000 and 30,000 Kenai River kings need to escape and spawn to ensure fishing opportunities in the future.

At the one-third point of the second run, Green said projections suggest this goal won’t be achieved. He said if Fish and Game kept king fishing open, there is an 80% chance the goal will not be met.

Brian Marston, the ADF&G commercial fisheries area management biologist, said in an effort to provide some more fishing opportunities on the last day before the closure, the ADF&G issued emergency orders 21 and 22 early this week. These orders gave the east side setnet commercial fishery extra time to harvest.

“We’re trying to get one more opening … so that [it] can be compared to other similar openings,” Marston said.

The east side setnetters are the only commercial fishery affected by the king closure. The drift gillnetters, Marston said, don’t really encounter Kenai kings. They fish in open waters where the king salmon swim too deep for their nets to reach.

Additionally, commercial fishers outside of the Upper Subdistrict — in the Northern District and on the west side of the Central District — are still fishing normal hours. The Upper Subdistrict runs from Ninilchik to Boulder Point at the north end of Nikiski Bay.

Marston said the closure areas have had problems with king salmon escapement for about 10 years now.

“The same thing happened last year,” he said. “If you go way back in history we typically don’t close (the Kenai, Kasilof and part of the Cook Inlet). We just don’t project that there’s going to be enough kings.”

So, Marston said, the ADF&G closes it either until the king run is plentiful, or until the season ends in mid-August.

Green said virtually all kinds of fisherpeople are interested in the king run.

“Everybody cares about that to some degree,” he said.

For more information about the east side setnet closure, Marston can be reached at 907-262-9368. Colton Lipka, the sport fishing area management biologist in Soldotna, can be reached at 907-262-9368.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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