Gear changes could conserve more kings
Thousands of king salmon were caught in 2017. Four of those bear special attention.
In 2012 low king salmon numbers caused Fish and Game to drastically curtail fisheries. By 2013 we were releasing live kings. That same year I begin designing a Selective Harvest Module (SHM), a device that uses seine web to reduce danger to king salmon. I got a Fish and Game permit to test my device in 2014. My SHM used pink salmon seine web, which turned out to be too big. Some salmon “gilled” in the web. Fish and Game reimbursed the $5,000 I had invested in the device and I ordered new, smaller web.
I got permits to test my modified SHM in 2015 and 2016. We were busy fishing those years, though, and didn’t test the SHM. Several facts are noted. My SHM was designed to replace a single setnet, but it cost about seven times as much to build and weighed ten times more than a setnet. A setnet can be pulled in minutes if threatened by waves, logs or jellyfish. Not so a SHM!
At the 2014 Board of Fisheries (BoF) meeting, regulations passed allowing the use of a second permit if the nets it employed were 29-mesh deep (the limit is 45 md). I already knew king salmon swim deeper so I converted all our nets for the 2014 season and continue to use only 29 md nets.
King stocks were alarmingly low so we released kings that we thought would survive. Some fishermen mocked me, “Thanks for releasing kings!” they said. “We’re catching them!” I reasoned that in keeping kings, they couldn’t spawn. By releasing them, they might spawn. Danger to the king stocks justified my action.
But was there a way to find out what happened to the kings we released? I asked Fish and Game research biologist Mark Willette for a tagging device and he loaned me one with tags. In 2016 I tagged most of the kings we released from my skiff. Keep in mind that our operation uses four skiffs but we only had one tagger.
In 2016 we tagged about ten kings. Two of those tags were recovered some three weeks later by seiners in Prince William Sound. Those kings weighed 33 pounds and 30 pounds. Another tagged king, a 46-pounder, was caught in the Big Eddy area of the Kenai River by a sport fisherman from Oregon. A fourth tag was recovered near the Susitna River, but it is still being verified. My tagging experiment attempted to find out if kings released from setnets could spawn. Early indications allow hope. Three out of four recovered tags were from a destination unexpected.
To sum up, I think 29-md nets reduce king harvest on my site. They also reduce sockeye harvests, but probably not very much. Of the kings I catch, about half are viable for release. In times of conservation concern, I think 29 md nets and releasing kings are methods that could help achieve escapement goals.