In a disastrous follow-up to last year's poor run of king salmon in Alaska, that state's most famous river for the big fish — the Kenai — has been closed to king fishing due to what officials believe is the poorest run of these fish since the 1980s.
Experts are at a loss to explain what has happened to the disappearing kings, which are in their fourth year of decline. But the effects of their absence are being felt around the state, particularly in native villages along the Yukon and other rivers.
"It is pretty scary," Timothy Andrew, director of natural resources with the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel, Alaska, told the AP. "Chinook salmon is probably the biggest species that people depend on for drying, salting and putting away in the freezer to feed the family throughout the winter."
Similarly, the massive Kenai River by mid-July is usually a veritable carnival of king salmon fishing. The closure's effect on the economy up and down the Kenai Peninsula will be widespread.
The July run is the summer's second, with the first occurring in June. But that run was also poor.
Fisheries biologists and managers are unsure what's happened to the highly prized fish. But some suspect that changes in the ocean environment, where the fish live for years before returning to their birth rivers, might be responsible.
It's also possible that changing ocean currents play a role.
Alaska's sockeye salmon run, by contrast, appears strong this summer. But guides don't have near the clients for sockeyes they do for kings.
"A lot of people have canceled," Dave Goggia of Hooky Charters and the president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, told the Alaska Daily News.
"The people that got shut down last year, that went no bait, they got a sour taste in their mouth. The people that got shut down in June, they got a sour tasked in their mouth. Now this? Even more people. Word's going to get out soon that, 'Hey, you can't count on Alaska anymore,' and it's going to be devastating," Goggia said.
Dennis Anderson has been a Star Tribune outdoors columnist since 1993, before which, for 13 years, he held the same position at the Pioneer Press. He enjoys casting and shooting. Dogs, too, and horses. Also kids and, occasionally, crusading in his column for improved conservation.
The morning was chillier than predicted — in the mid- to high 30s at sunup — but walleye fishing generally was good on Crane Lake on the season opener Saturday. Walleyes were caught in 14 to 16 feet of water on shiner, chub and fathead minnows