ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Sport fishing and tourism on the Kenai Peninsula continue to suffer from low sockeye and king salmon returns, according to the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
The KRSA is alling for the closure of set net fishing on the Cook Inlet until adequate numbers of king and sockeye salmon enter the Kenai River.
The organization is asking Gov. Bill Walker to direct the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to take action and help Kenai River salmon numbers rebound.
KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease says overall escapement numbers of Cook Inlet kings are low this year, and they’re getting lower fast.
“We are very concerned, and we think that the department needs to start taking more conservative management,” Gease said. “In our community, it doesn't seem like anyone is excited to go fishing for king salmon when we have these very poor returns coming in.”
Gease says low escapement numbers are leading to a larger-than-normal disparity between sport and commercial king salmon harvests, and he’s calling for set net closures in order to maintain the health of the Cook Inlet king salmon fishery.
One commercial set netter agrees a closure could benefit harvests for both sides.
“As a commercial set netter for almost 50 years, and speaking for myself,” Ken Coleman said, “I believe we commercial fisherman have always been in favor of department closures when the health of the fisheries is at risk, whether it be sockeyes, or Chinook or other species. Particularly to make sure that escapement is healthy, which enhances our ability to have further harvest opportunity as the runs improve.”
Gease says Fish and Game should keep the entire set net fishery on the beach until there are more fish in the Kenai River.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story quoted a number from a KRSA press release describing a large difference in commercial and sport harvests of Cook Inlet large king salmon. That number was an estimate based on historical averages. As of July 17, Commercial East Side Set Net fishers have harvested approximately 148-192 large Kenai River king salmon, while sport fishermen harvested approximately 101 large Kenai River king salmon, according to Fish and Game.