All king salmon fishing to close in Kenai drainage

A Chinook salmon in Southcentral Alaska (Ryan Hagerty/USFWS)

The Kenai River drainage will officially close to king salmon fishing Friday due to low numbers.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the closure on Wednesday, set to last through July 31, which would be the end of the king salmon fishing season on the Kenai anyway. The river was already restricted to catch-and-release only due to low returns, but the closure goes a step further and prohibits bait everywhere in the river from the mouth upstream to Skilak Lake.

Fishing for kings in the salt waters of Cook Inlet north of Bluff Point is also officially closed, including to catch-and-release, starting Friday and lasting through July 31. That’s connected to the Kenai Run as well and is designed to protect the kings still passing through the marine waters on their way back to the Kenai.

Both the early and late run of Kenai River kings have been poor this year. The early run didn’t make escapement despite a closure, and now the late run looks like it won’t make escapement either, according to Fish and Game. As of Wednesday, 4,520 large kings—the only ones that count toward escapement—had passed the sonar on the river. The projection was for 12,700 large kings to come back, which is still under the lower end of the escapement goal.

The order impacts the Kenai-area setnetters as well. Under the management plan, if the Kenai River is completely closed to king salmon fishing, the setnetters in the Upper Subdistrict close completely too. The setnet fishery runs through the second week of August, after the sportfishery for king salmon closes, but it won’t reopen until Fish and Game revises that king salmon estimate to be within the goal, according to the management plan. The commercial fleet was out fishing Wednesday. For the last few years, Fish and Game has been gathering in-season genetic information for kings caught in the east side setnet fishery. As of Wednesday, the department estimated that between 105 and 138 large Kenai River late-run king salmon had been caught in the east side setnets.

For more information, check out Fish and Game’s website.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at

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