ANCHORAGE — Silver salmon fishing is being shut down on the Little Susitna River because of another year of weak returns.
The silver salmon fishery on the 110-mile river in Southcentral Alaska historically has been second only to the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula, but the situation has changed since 2009 with consecutive years of weak returns.
Returns are so poor this August that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Wednesday shutting down sport silver fishing on the Little Su beginning Friday.
Fish and Game area management biologist Sam Ivey said the closure comes as no surprise. Last year’s silver salmon returns were “pretty dismal” across the entire Cook Inlet region, he said.
With the silver run about half over, the numbers indicate that every fish that comes into the river now must get up the Little Su to spawn, he said.
Fishery managers set an escapement goal — that is the number of fish needing to get up the river to spawn — at between 10,100 and 17,700 fish. Just 515 fish were counted as of Aug. 7.
“With the numbers so weak, we need to basically save every fish coming into the stream right now,” he said.
If the numbers improve, the closure could be lifted, fishery managers said.
Ivey said the Little Su is capable in good years of producing a lot of silver salmon, with harvests ranging from 12,000 to more than 20,000 fish. But that has not been the case of late. Silver fishing on the Little Su was closed last year on Aug. 25. This year the fish-counting weir was moved downstream so management decisions could be made earlier in the run, Ivey said.
Former Fish and Game fisheries biologist Larry Engel, now a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, said he supports the closure given the low return. More studies on fish genetics would be useful as well as a better understanding of what happens in years such as this when there are not many silver salmon and lots of red salmon, he said.
But Engel said he’s seen poor years for silver salmon before.
“They have resiliency and a way of bouncing back,” he said.