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Further restrictions issued for set gillnetters in Cook Inlet

Posted: June 27, 2012 - 2:01pm  |  Updated: June 27, 2012 - 2:08pm
  Photo by Brian Smith
Photo by Brian Smith

For the second day of the season the Kasilof section of the set gillnet fishery will be closed to fishing Thursday.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a closure of set gillnetting in the North District of Upper Cook Inlet Wednesday as the department continues to cope with poor numbers of early-run king salmon and a below-average return of sockeye in the Kasilof river.
The closure of the regular 48 hour-per-week fishing period for the setnet fishery in June is abnormal for ADF&G.
"It's unusual in that typically we're on the other side," Pat Shields, area management biologist said. "We're allowed to fish as many as 48 additional hours per week; usually we're using all of the 48 hours and wishing we had more because more often than not the Kasilof River sockeye escapement has us at a point where we can see that we're already behind."
As of Monday, 28,404 sockeye had been counted in the Kasilof river according to ADF&G, which is well below the 10-year-average of 62,000 fish in the same period; despite there having been no commercial harvest of Kasilof River sockeye salmon stock this year.
This is the second year sockeye in the Kasilof have been measured using a DIDSON and last year by June 25, there were more than 66,000 sockeye counted in the Kasilof.
The escapement goal is between 160,000 to 390,000 fish.
"If you look at the last 10 years and look at the average escapement; we're less than half of average," Shields said. "It's too early in the year to project what the final would be. The current escapement right now would suggest that we would make the range but we would be at the bottom end."
However, with 90 percent of the run yet to come, Shields said it was too soon to make projections on what the final escapement of sockeye into the Kasilof would be.
While the Kasilof river set gillnet fishery is managed for sockeye escapement, the restriction on the Kasilof also takes into account the low number of king salmon stock in the Cook Inlet.
"When you have a mixed stock fishery you will sacrifice the harvest of the strong stock, the dominant stock numerically, to make sure you're achieving the minimum goal of the weaker stock numerically is kings," Shield said.
In the Upper Cook Inlet on the Deshka River weir counts alongside angler and staff reports show a weaker than anticipated run of king salmon according to the emergency order.
The sustainable escapement goal for king salmon in the Deshka is between 13,000 and 28,000 fish. By Monday 8,501 kings were estimated to have passed the Deshka River weir and the final escapement projection falls below 13,000.
ADF&G has been coping with weak escapements into the Susitna River drainage for several years.

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kenai123 06/28/12 - 02:11 pm
Where Have All The Kings Gone?

The average anglers fishing Cook Inlets rivers and streams today will pack up their gear and head out with high hopes of landing a bunch of giant king salmon.
That angler will then return home with the sobering reality that it is much more difficult to catch a king today than it used to be. If they do the research they will eventually come across the records of how king fishing used to be. The story may take many twists and turns but it comes down to a tale of who got the fish. We had a lot of kings in Alaska waters just after World War 2. During this period there was a low point in both commercial and sport fishing thus allowing our salmon resources to blossom. Once those runs reached great abundance they caught the attention of both local and foreign fisheries. Back then the U.S. had a three-mile territorial limit which allowed foreign fisheries to basically come in and curtain off our nursery rivers and streams with trawlers and gillnets. All the commercial effort basically wiped out our salmon so we stopped our own commercial fishing effort prior to 1976 and ended the foreign fishing rip-off with the Magnuson Steven Fisheries Act of 1976. The Act effectively expanded the three-mile limit into a 200 mile U.S. Economic Zone which greatly reduced foreign commercial fishermen from accessing our returning salmon stocks.
The local and foreign shut-down was very successful and from around 1979 to 1995 we again began to allow our commercial fisheries to start fishing again as we experienced huge returns of king and silver salmon on the Kenai River and Cook Inlet. We did not know it at the time but the removal of the foreign and local commercial fishing fleets resulted in our Cook Inlet salmon actually being allowed to somewhat freely migrate back to their home rivers and streams. We could go out fishing on the Kenai River for kings at this time and see ten to twenty kings swirl to the surface when making a single drifting pass on a hole. It was not unusual to go out king fishing in July and have four to five persons in a boat limited out
within a couple hours and most of that time was spent landing giant kings, which fought for at least twenty to thirty minutes each. The fishing was fantastic, runs came in early, peaked and remained strong until the end of the month or were closed by regulation.
As the commercial gillnets increased in and around Cook Inlet, we began to notice run slippage. At first it was just a slight delay of only a few days, which was quickly made up for later when the main body of the runs arrived. Each year from 1995 - 2005 resulted in these runs arriving a few day later.
By 2002 commercial trawlers, seiners and gillnets had increased so much in and around Cook Inlet that many people began noticing a reduction in the size of giant Kenai kings along with their late arrival. The first reaction was shock as the ADF&G began reading off the record of what was happening to the first run of Kenai kings. The Board of Fish and the public scrambled and arrived at their solution, which was to severely restrict freshwater fisheries in an attempt to make up for the losses.
At this time time I personally began researching the bycatch figures of Kodiak commercial fisheries guarding the entrances to Cook Inlet, which by the way begin commercial fishing June 5th each year. I was astounded as to the dramatic increase in Kodiak area commercial fisheries bycatch of king salmon. Kodiak commercial seine and gillnet fisheries which had previously reported only a bycatch of a few thousand kings annually in 1980 suddenly soared to a bycatch of 20,000 - 30,000 kings annually by 2002. At the same time the Bering Sea commercial fishermen were bycatching 30,000 - 40,000 kings annually and then those bycatch figures rocketed to 100,000 - 120,000 kings annually. These are kings which are illegal to keep so they are just thrown overboard DEAD. At the same time king bycatch figures within the Gulf of Alaska also began soaring from 20,000 kings annually to 50,000 kings and most of this was kings being dumped over the side DEAD because they were either targeting other stocks or illegal to keep. During this time just twenty commercial boats from King Cove and Sand Point near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula averaged a bycatch of 3.4 king salmon per metric ton of Pollock. These guys estimated that they obtained this bycatch of about 24,878 kings in just twelve days of fishing. 20,000 kings is enough salmon to fuel Cook Inlets entire annual sportfishery and would result in 30 - 40 times more revenue to the state than if those fish had actually been delivered to commercial markets. Unfortunately most of those kings never even made it to any markets because they were dumped over the side DEAD. A smaller amount of commercially gillnetted king bycatch makes it to commercial fisherires markets but the vast majority of Alaska's king bycatch is dumped DEAD. Some may think this waste of fish is so offensive that someone would have noticed these changes, well some of us did notice and we tried to generate the attention the situation deserved but many people would not look at what was right before their eyes. It was not until Gulf of Alaska king bycatch figures began soaring to over 40,000 - 60,000 kings annually, when that happened it caught the attention of Lower 48 fisheries managers. These managers had endangered king stocks from the Upper Willamette and lower Columbia rivers which are known to swim the waters of the Gulf of Alaska. When they caught wind of these huge king bycatch numbers they also began to ask questions like we have been asking since 2002.
So what has resulted from all of the bycatch questions and revelations?
In 2009 the North Pacific Council finally attempted to do something about the uncontrolled king bycatch spiral, they voted to stop the Pollock fishing when they hit a bycatch of 60,000 kings in the Bering Sea. In 2011 the North Council voted for a 25,000-king cap on the Gulf of Alaska king bycatch. So theoretically if the Pollock fleet in the Gulf of Alaska passes the 25,000-king bycatch limit, the fishery will be shut down. The Gulf of Alaska 2010 fleet killed more than 51,000 king salmon as bycatch, an all-time high. You can use your imagination as to what has been happening out there since.
These are only caps on the commercial king bycatch, they cannot even hope to repair the long term damage which has been done to our king stocks. Even if this king bycatch problem were totally eliminated today it would take a minimum of 10 - 20 years to recover from this kind of wholesale slaughter.
But to answer the question of "Where have all the kings gone?" Commercial bycatch figures on king salmon have gone from next to nothing to monstrous numbers, while the State of Alaska has been assuming that it's a natural statewide lack of abundance of king salmon resulting from excessive freshwater angling. This incorrect assumption fueled extensive freshwater fisheries restrictions and forced those fisheries to give up fish allocations which they could not afford to give up. The vast majority of these missing king salmon were dumped DEAD over the side by the commercial fishing industry and now blissfully drift among the ocean currents. So the answer is really much more simple than you may have been led to believe. Most of these kings have not gone anywhere, most remain where they were caught, killed and dumped DEAD. This is not a complex naturally low abundance of king salmon issue; it is a simple low abundance of wise fisheries managers WHO ARE ABLE to address fisheries bycatch problems at the saltwater source rather than the freshwater symptoms.

jake 06/27/12 - 04:52 pm
I would be very interested in

I would be very interested in what Ak. Dept. F&G and the North Pacific Council have to say about this comment. It seems well researched and gives specific numbers. This could be a "Lead" article for a good clarion reporter who dug into this information, getting ADFG & North the Pacific Council to respond and reported the outcome of his/her findings.

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