The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is restricting sport, commercial and subsistence king salmon fishing in Northern Cook Inlet, and the Susitna River and Little Susitna River drainages for the 2019 season, according to multiple releases from the department Monday.

Fish and Game coordinator Tom Vania says he hopes the early notice will allow local businesses, like lodges and fishing guides, to better plan for the summer season.

King salmon sport fisheries will be closed in May, June and part of July 2019 throughout the Susitna River and Little Susitna River drainages.

"During the closure, sport fishing gear is limited to one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure when fishing on the Little Susitna River in those waters normally open to king salmon fishing," one release stated. "Sport fishing for other species will be allowed seven days per week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m."

Commercial fishing will be closed in the Northern District of Upper Cook Inlet through June 24.

Subsistence king salmon fisheries in the Tyonek Subdistrict and Upper Yentna, which are each open three days a week by regulation, are being restricted to two days per week. ADF&G says this change is to share the burden of conservation across all groups while also prioritizing subsistence.

The restrictions are due to multiple salmon stocks failing to meet escapement goals in recent years.

“The department is mandated to manage Alaska’s fisheries for sustained yield," said ADF&G Acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. "We must make conservation actions to ensure the long-term sustainability of these important king salmon stocks."

Vincent-Lang says the department will be actively monitoring the 2019 runs, in case they come in stronger than expected. Weirs on the Deshka and Little Susitna rivers, fishwheels and aerial surveys will be used to gauge in-season run strength. The restrictions may be lifted where and when possible while still ensuring escapement goals are achieved.

“Last season king salmon stocks in the North Cook Inlet experienced a weak run of king salmon, as did most of Alaska. An exceptionally low run is expected again this season due to a poor showing of 5- and 6-year-old fish,” area management biologist Sam Ivey said in a release. “Alaskans know every fish counts towards achieving our escapement goals and providing a sustainable fishery for our future."

Andy Couch, the owner of sportfishing company Fishtale River Guides, says the restrictions will really hit his business. He says the company brings in about 300 people in a good year to fish for kings, but with the new restrictions he'll be lucky to get 25 people this season.

"I've been in business 35 years and this is by far the most restrictive we've ever been. We're starting the season closed," Couch said.

Couch says he's been holding money from people from last year who ended up not visiting because of restrictions in the season.

"One group said, ‘We're not going this year; just hold our reservation, keep our down payment, we'll go on the same date next year,’” Couch said. “Obviously I've held their money and they're not going to be able to go now. Hopefully they haven't made plane reservations, lodging and all of that."

That group ended up asking Couch for a recommendation of other places to fish for kings. He’s hoping groups can come together to form a plan on dealing with the restrictions, and that in the future Fish and Game will make seasonal escapement projections and announce restrictions earlier.

Ivey said that while ADF&G staff understands the frustrations and impact closing the fishery down has on anglers, local businesses and guides, the department "has a duty to protect, maintain, and improve our sport fisheries."

He said that even with the new restrictions, the department will likely not meet escapement goals.

Angela Krenzien, Scott Jensen, Elizabeth Roman and Joe Vigil contributed to this story.

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