A crowd of Cook Inlet setnet fishermen and their families gathered Monday outside the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to protest restrictions to the setnet fishery. On Sunday, Fish and Game issued an emergency order closing Monday’s Kasilof setnet opening, the third consecutive regular fishing period to be cancelled this season. Pat Shields (middle, in gray jacket, holding papers), area management biologist for the commercial fisheries division, answered fishermen’s questions, acknowledging the early season restrictions are unprecedented. The reasons are complicated, he said, but center on king salmon conservation and sockeye salmon escapement numbers. The early run of kings was the weakest on record, and the sockeye numbers on the Kasilof River are below average. In past years, the management agency allowed setnetters to fish five to six times a week. Shields provided a dissatisfied crowd with the numbers of officials in Anchorage and Juneau.
Doug and Mary Blossom express their concerns during the protest. Doug Blossom said he believes many of the setnetters were unaware management plans could be disregarded with little to no warning. Conservation is important, he said, but he feels the east side fishery, which stretches from Ninilchik to Nikiski, is the only fishery bearing the burden for the low numbers.