Low king counts to close Anchor, Deep Creek

Jun 3, 2021

Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

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

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

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, the area management biologist for sportfish on the lower peninsula, said the managers are pretty sure that the run is going to come in small as well as late. The Anchor River’s king salmon run has been coming in later and later for the past few years. Last year, its peak was in the first week of July.

“The midpoint of the Anchor River king salmon run was in the first week in July, 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 opportunities on the Anchor this year as the clearing of water conditions. Clearer water makes it easier to fish, and with so few kings coming in, it could be too much harvest pressure. The emergency order closes Deep Creek king salmon fishing as well. That’s in part because of the lack of inseason tracking data on the kings in that system, which means Fish and Game has to be more conservative in managing it.

On the other hand, the Ninilchik River seems to be doing fine. Booz said that river’s runs, both wild and hatchery, are coming in well.

“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 broodstock for us to backstock 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 run in four years that has come in below the goal for the Anchor River. Booz said the inseason management is working to help protect the stock on the river, but there are potential actions that Fish and Game could take with 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 with protecting the 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 sportfishery 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 that into regulation.”

In the meantime, there are plenty of other king salmon sportfishing 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.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabethearl@gmail.com.