WASILLA - Fishing groups in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley want state fisheries officials to help revive the area's diminishing red salmon runs.
This year's return was among the weakest ever recorded - so small that river anglers were limited mostly to catch and release, and Upper Cook Inlet setnetters had one of their smallest harvests ever.
Some in Mat-Su believe Kenai Peninsula commercial fishermen intercepted much of catch, causing the low returns. They point to the fact that Kenai-area fleets this year bagged one of their best harvests ever.
Andy Couch, a fishing guide on the Little Susitna River and a member of the Valley Fish and Game advisory board, said state fisheries managers aren't taking the low returns seriously enough. He said he wants to see more restrictions placed on Kenai commercial fishermen.
On the Yentna River, considered the leading indicator of red runs in Mat-Su, fewer than 37,000 reds returned this year. The minimum goal for the river set by state biologists is 90,000, a goal that has been reached once in the past five years.
State fisheries officials said they aren't convinced interception by Kenai commercial fishermen is a main cause of the low returns, or that more restrictions on the fleet would solve the problem, said Jeff Regnart, the commercial fisheries supervisor for Cook Inlet.
Biologists think the problem might lie in the rivers and lakes in Mat-Su that serve as red salmon spawning grounds, Regnart said. Possible reasons for the drop include more pike eating salmon fry, beaver dams blocking the runs, more development along streams and global warming.
In an October letter, state Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell said the department plans multiple studies to try to resolve uncertainties about the red runs in Mat-Su.
Those studies include analysis of genetic samples from red salmon caught by Kenai-based driftnetters and setnetters to measure how many Valley-bound fish are caught.
The department also has started tests on the water quality of several Mat-Su lakes and plans to test its sonar counter in the Yentna River to see whether its working properly.
Regnart said studies could take a few years.