King salmon closure could cost Mat-Su businesses millions

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — The king salmon fishing season in the Mat-Su Valley typically only lasts two months, but with several years of declining returns, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game has decided to close the fishery in 2019. It's a decision which local business owners say could cost the community millions.

"It doesn't just affect the local fishing shop here, it doesn't just affect the local guide services here. it's gas stations, it's mom and pops grocery stores, it's bed and breakfasts, it's restaurants," said Mike Hudson, co-owner of Three Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla. "It's huge, it turns into millions of dollars that are missed in our resource when we have a fishery that's not available."

Year to year, Hudson says a closing of a fishery, like the king salmon fishery, will cost his business hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although he's not happy about the closure, he supports Fish and Game's decision.

"I think it's the responsible thing to do," Hudson said. "Am I disappointed? Absolutely. I hate missing my opportunity to fish for kings, and I hate seeing my customers and the community miss the opportunity to sport fish for kings."

Deshka Landing is another local business expected to see a dramatic decline in customers this season. Joe Wright, President of Deshka Landing, says they will see a 40 to 50 percent reduction in day users, costing them roughly 25 percent of their yearly operating income.

The closure affects all king fishermen in the Northern Cook Inlet area — specifically the Susitna and Yentna drainage's, as well as the Little Susitna River.

According to the Dept. of Fish and Game, in 2018, the number of kings returning to spawn only reached about 8,500 fish, with officials expecting another poor return this year. Fish and Game has set this years minimum escapement goal at about 13,000.