Low king counts to close Anchor, Deep Creek to fishing

Fishermen ply the Anchor River for a bite. (Elizabeth Earl//KDLL)

Starting Saturday, Anchor River and Deep Creek will close to king salmon fishing through July 15. Too few kings are coming back to the Anchor to justify a sport fishery there, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

As of Wednesday, only 166 king salmon had passed the sonar on Anchor River. That’s even fewer than last year, after the run barely met the lower end of its sustainable escapement goal. Fish and Game’s projections show fewer than 2,000 king salmon may return to the river this season, just half the lower end of the escapement goal.

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Fishing for kings in marine waters is closed within a mile of shore along the entire eastern side of the peninsula as well, from Bluff Point north.

Mike Booz, area management biologist for sport fish on the lower peninsula, said managers are pretty sure the run is going to come in small, as well as late. Anchor River’s king salmon have been returning later and later in the past few years. Last year, they peaked in the first week of July.

“The midpoint of the Anchor River king salmon run was … extremely late,” Booz said. “These fish are really having some odd, unprecedented run timing and behavior. We know this run isn’t going to be strong enough to support harvest opportunity.”

He said the dealbreaker for king salmon fishing on the Anchor this year were clearing water conditions. Clear water makes it easier to fish, and with so few kings coming in, it could put too much pressure on the stock. The department’s emergency order closes Deep Creek to king salmon fishing as well — without in-season tracking data on returning kings in that river, Fish and Game must use more conservative management.

On the other hand, the Ninilchik River seems to be doing fine. Booz said both wild and hatchery runs there are coming in as expected.

“The Ninilchik has consistently met its escapement goal and has provided enough fish over the lower end of the goal for us to collect enough brood stock for us to back-stock the Ninilchik with hatchery fish,” Booz said. “It’s a smaller run, obviously, so there may be some stability in that.”

This is the third time in four years Anchor River’s escapement goals haven’t been met for kings. Booz said in-season management is working to help protect the stock on the river, but there are other potential actions Fish and Game could take to the Board of Fisheries in the future, such as moving the fishing season back to align more with run timing, or designating the Anchor as a stock of concern to help protect wild fish.

“The long-term discussion is try to figure out if the fishery should be readjusted to this progressing later run timing,” he said. “The Anchor opens the weekend before Memorial Day; there’s very few fish in the river at that point. Maybe potentially realigning the sport fishery season with the run timing that we’re seeing right now? Being patient with these fish — we’re being as conservative as we can be, but maybe that’s something to consider putting into regulation.”

In the meantime, there are plenty of other king salmon sport fishing opportunities. In the Homer area, there are kings stocked into the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon and the Seldovia Slough. The Kenai River king salmon early run is open to fishing as well, with no bait and no retention of fish 34 inches or larger.