Sportfishermen and women hoping to catch the trophy Alaskan king salmon (or chinook salmon) of a lifetime will have to put their shot at the prize on hold for a year. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the Kenai River in south central Alaska has not seen nearly enough salmon returning to spawning sites to allow sportfishing.

The DFG was preparing to close the fishery if the run of king salmon fell below 17,800 fish, the minimum projected numbers needed for a healthy supply of the next generation of salmon. The Kenai River, which many consider to be Alaska’s premier salmon river, counted just 4,033 king salmon by in-river sonar. With half of the late-run complete, officials estimate that there are actually 10,300 to 15,800 king salmon in the Kenai River, too far below cut-off numbers that enable closure.

A total ban on fishing went into effect Thursday, July 19.

“It looks like this is the lowest run that we have ever seen in the Kenai on record going back into the 1980s,” Robert Begich, the department’s area management biologist, said Wednesday to the Associated Press.

To avoid complete closure, the Department tried a number of measures. Among the measures, a never-before ban on bait was issued and catch-and-release fishing was instigated, but Begich said those initiatives were not enough.

Normally at this time, mid-July, guided boats are buzzing about the crowded chaotic waters trying to give their clients the best opportunity for a trophy king salmon. Ray Beamesderfer, a consultant with Cramer Fish Sciences in Gresham, Oregon believes changes in marine environment, such as changing ocean currents, have contributed to low salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. But he also admits that the downturn cannot be fully explained away by a change in ocean currents. What is particularly mind boggling is that other salmon species in Alaska are thriving.

In nearby rivers both commercial fishermen and village anglers are turning to less desirable, but more plentiful species of salmon that sell for less than $1 a pound. In comparison, king salmon typically sells for more than $5 a pound. Fishing for king salmon is closed in Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers as well.

Image from Dan Cox, USFWS Pacific Southwest Region on the flickr Creative Commons

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