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Cook Inlet salmon management plan implications discussed

Task force considers changes

Posted: January 15, 2013 - 9:38am  |  Updated: January 15, 2013 - 2:38pm
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The Upper Cook Inlet Task Force met for the second time Monday. The group discussed various proposals aimed at modifying the management plans for commercial and sport fishermen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's draft escapement goal for Kenai River king salmon and a website aggregating all of the data requests and information covered by the task force.  Rashah McChesney
Rashah McChesney
The Upper Cook Inlet Task Force met for the second time Monday. The group discussed various proposals aimed at modifying the management plans for commercial and sport fishermen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's draft escapement goal for Kenai River king salmon and a website aggregating all of the data requests and information covered by the task force.

Ten Upper Cook Inlet Task Force members met Monday to address the mountain of data generated since their last meeting, propose changes to salmon management plans and hear from local fishermen.

The day began with a presentation on a draft escapement goal recommendation of 15,000 to 30,000 late-run chinook salmon in the Kenai River.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Chief Fisheries Scientist, Bob Clark answered questions about the draft report and how the DIDSON-sonar based goal was developed.

The new escapement goal is based on the department’s DIDSON sonar and will replace the former escapement goal which was based on a target-strength sonar.

The department also plans to move the DIDSON counter upstream to remove tidal influence from factoring into fish counts.

DIDSON sonar will be run both in the current sonar location, near River Mile 8, and in the new sonar location during the 2013 fishing season.

The draft report was sent to five peer reviewers and should be ready for distribution in mid-February Clark said.

Vince Webster, co-chair of the task force, asked members of Fish and Game to explain how the intended to manage the fishery during the next season.

“With this new escapement, counting system, have you guys thought of how it’s going to affect, how you’re going to manage next year?” Webster said. “I think that’s what we need to know so we can make some kind of recommendation. If (the users) ... if they don’t know when they’re going to be shut down then what can we do?”

Robert Begich, area biologist, said if the 2013 fishing season is like the 2012 fishing season, there may be differences in the number of days the department would shut down the sport and commercial fisheries, but they would likely still close as the run was not large enough to support harvest.

“The users would like to see in black and white, when is the department going to close us down next year? What do you need to see when you’re going to close it down,” Webster said.

Tom Vania, regional fisheries management coordinator for Cook Inlet, said he would “need a better crystal ball” than the one he has now.

He said the sport fishing division does not have its forecast yet, but that it was likely the 2013 run of chinook salmon would be low.

“We’ve seen all the graphs, we’ve seen all the figures, there’s really nothing right now that tells us we’re going to dramatically come up from that,” he said. “We look at the runs, the yield that was available in the 2012 run it was about 10,000 fish that (were) probably on the table and historic harvest levels are typically around 20,000 fish ... in all likelihood 2013 isn’t going to be big enough to produce average runs.”

Vania said knowing what the department knows now, the restrictions would still have been implemented.

“Catch-and-release would have gone into place maybe a day or two later, closure would have been around the same time, again maybe a day or two difference. Going back into the water, going back into the liberalizations may have occurred five or six days earlier because that’s when the fish started coming into the river,” he said.

Management changes recommended

The task force also heard three sets of recommended changes to the management plan from members representing sport fishing and commercial fishing interests.

The East Side Setnet Proposal recommended several changes to the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management plan including a suspension of automatic closures to the sport fishery and the setnet fishery when the in river spawning escapement is less than 15,000 kings as projected between July 15-20.

According to the proposal, the fisheries would not be closed unless the department was not going to meet an optimum escapement goal of 11,000 chinook salmon.

That would also close the personal-use fishery to the retention of chinook according to the setnetter’s proposal.

After the setnetters presentation co-chair Tom Kluberton reminded task force members that any changes to regulation they approved would be subject to a one-year “sunset” provision which means they would expire and the topic would again be addressed in 2014.

Dwight Kramer, a sport fishing representative on the board, also put a proposal out which he said was aimed at protecting the resource but still allowing harvest opportunity.

“I was really bothered by the last two years when people in the community suffered — both the sport fish and the commercial end — then after the fact the department came out with memorandums ... upping the final escapement numbers which would have allowed enough harvest for people to have been able to participate fully.”

According to Kramer’s proposal, the inriver king fishery should be started July 1 with no bait to protect early-run king salmon still gathered below the Soldotna bridge.

If, by July 15, the late run kings are projected to fall below the department’s sustainable escapement goal of 15,000 king salmon then the sport fishery would be restricted to no bait or catch-and-release; the East Side Setnet Fishery would be changed to adaptive management with its fishing windows removed and would be opened by emergency order authority to fish when the sockeye came through, according to Kramer’s proposal.

Kramer also suggested changing the department’s sustainable escapement goal to an optimum escapement goal of 13,000 salmon and suggested closing the personal-use fishery to king harvest.

If the department projections fall below 13,000, both fisheries would close according to Kramer’s proposal.

Kevin Delaney, a sportfishing representative on the task force, also put forward a draft proposal that drew criticism from audience members and board members.

Delaney’s proposal recommended step-down restrictions in the setnet fishery — such as removing certain nets during times of low abundance of king salmon — that would mirror restrictions to the sport fishery.

Delaney said he would rather have members of the setnet community develop their own restrictions.

“My objective was really to effect a series of harvest potential reductions across fisheries,” he said. “I am an expert at sport fishing management and I can tell you when you take treble hooks out, when you take bait out, when you go to catch-and-release, when you set aside some specific time and area, it’s going to reduce harvest potential by a certain amount.”

Delaney said he wanted setnetters to figure out how to reduce their harvest potential by similar percentage amounts.

“So far, they’re kind of going ‘uh, we don’t know.’ Well I’m going to keep asking,” Delaney said.

The other part of Delaney’s proposal includes suggesting that Fish and Game manage king salmon conservatively and at the upper end of the spawning range.

“From the data that the department has presented, a credible, scientifically supportable case can be made for anything from about 11,000 spawning king salmon up to about 30,000 spawning king salmon,” he said. “... but what’s clear is that as you get to the lower end, a mistake puts the fish at risk ... I know, as an old manager, that there’s imprecision in management, especially in the middle of the season. I want to hedge the bet in such a manner that the fish are put at slightly less risk.”

Delaney said he had not intended to present a proposal during the day’s meeting but was encouraged to share his ideas by the task force co-chairs.

All three proposals will be available on the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force website along with changes made after today’s meeting and other research presented by the Department of Fish and Game.

Kluberton suggested community members use a comment function on the task force’s website to let members know of their concerns.

After several hours of discussion, board members said they felt the day had been productive.

“You know I think, I’ve been doing this since 1976,” Delaney said. “... Today was the most interactive productive discussion I’ve ever seen hosted on this. Honest to god, people did a great job.”

Rashah McChesney can be reached at 

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Beach Boss
Beach Boss 01/15/13 - 12:19 pm
Balanced Approach

Essn offered a very fair and balanced proposal for in times of king salmon low abundance. If you would like to view it

Obfuscate 01/15/13 - 05:06 pm

Mr. KenaiKardinal88 - I hope you are lumping the Sportfishing Guides into the same group as Commercial Drift and Set net fisherman.

Lifer 01/15/13 - 10:53 pm
Good Riddance

Thank you to whomever removed KenaiKardinal88's comments. They were not contributing to the discussion. Regarding the proposals, the ESSN's seem to have a reasonable recommendation that treats everyone fairly and keeps all of the fisheries in business, and diverse revenue streams flowing into the Peninsula Borough.

akdipnet 01/16/13 - 11:00 am
setnetters need to develop plan to eliminate king bycatch

If setnetters want to keep fishing for sockeye, they'll need to change the way they currently fish and demonstrate that their fishing methods do not retain kings.

From my own setnetting experience, i know it can be done successfully. unlike most every setnetter out there, this permit holder stayed out with his nets for the full duration of the opening, going from net to net, constantly picking fish. Yeah, i know it is more work, but consider the benefits:

Top quality fish, since by staying with your nets, most sockeye, and all kings, are harvested alive. if ordered to do so, i easily could have let all kings go.

spybot 01/16/13 - 02:07 pm
Lower the escapement some more so we can continue fishing

Thanks for the link.

After looking at it, the set net "proposal" - in a nut shell - kings are not important, sockeyes are king. Since kings are not important, making a minimum escapement for kings really isn't all that important.

Our solution - let us fish no matter how many kings come back. To do this, lower the king escapement and then let us fish even if we are below that minimum goal.

We couldn't possibly modify our gear, or break the set net fishery into areas of high king catch and low king catch, or heaven forbid release kings - none of that could ever work.

The only thing we can do to reduce king harvest is to have time restrictions. And as we all know from last year, time restrictions mean we are not fishing. And the problem with not fishing is that we are not catching sockeye, which is king.

So just lower the escapement goal for kings, and even if we are not meeting a lowered goal, let us keep fishing.

That in a nut-shell casing is the very fair and balanced set net "proposal."

Wow. Just let us fish baby. Too bad it screws with future king returns and puts the future of the whole king fishery at increased risk. No matter, where sockeye are king, who can waste time caring about the kings.

I am surprised someplace in the set net "proposal" kings weren't nominated as an invasive species for the Kenai River, so we could just eradicate them all like northern pike.

smithtb 01/16/13 - 10:01 pm
Stop smearing a common sense proposal

Scientific data shows us that we get optimum yield when 600,000-900,000 Sockeye spawn in the Kenai. Nevertheless, the OEG for sockeye in the Kenai is 700,000 to 1,400,000 fish. Why is this? It is to provide ample harvest opportunity for every user group, not just the primary harvester. It is also to ensure that fishermen don't, in their pursuit of sockeye, adversly impact the King stocks through INCEDENTAL CATCH while trying to catch all the excess sockeye and prevent overescapement. Nearly every year in the recent past, we have allowed the Kenai sockeye escapement to far exceed that which gives us an optimum yield.

The late run Kenai King escapement goal was changed by ADFG due to new enumeration methods and because SCIENTIFIC DATA showed that the new goal of 15,000-30,000 was the most productive escapement range. ADFG stated that optimum yield is seen at 20,000. Their data also shows that the yield off an escapement of 11,000 is expected to be nearly the same as the yield off of an escapement of 30,000.

Setting an OEG of 11,000-30,000 for Kenai Kings in order to provide harvest opportunity and protect Sockeye escapements is perfectly reasonable, and in no way does it put the future of the King fishery at risk.

Some interesting facts from the new ADFG report:

- We have never failed to make the lower end of the new LR Kenai King escapement goal.
- Unlike we have heard over and over, Kenai King runs have not been in steady decline since the 80's. In fact, returns in the early 2000's were very high, and returns from 2003-05 were the highest on record.
- We have exceeded the upper end of the new LR King SEG 15 of the last 26 years.
- The department reported that expected sustained yield is maximized around 20,000 spawners. In the last 26 years, we have exceeded that escapement number every year save one.
- While decreased ocean survival is likely a large factor, past overescapement is very likely a factor involved in the last several years of poor Kenai King returns.
- The new data shows that ESSN's long-term annual average harvest rate of LR Kenai Kings is only 13%!
- Yes, that means that ESSN's don't kill the majority of Kenai Kings, as we've heard for years. They take, on average, about 1/3 of the total harvest.

To me, this proposal is a solution based on abundance based, adaptive management. It takes into account the tradeoffs between the two stocks, just like the Sockeye plan already does.

kenai123 01/17/13 - 02:03 am
The Task Force Mission

The Task Force Mission was to resolve Alaska's king salmon problems not figure out how to better count king salmon on only the Kenai River. It is extremely short-sighted to believe that a statewide king salmon problem may be addressed by suggesting escapement solutions for only the Kenai River. We have a problem which involves millions of missing king salmon in Alaska. This magnitude of a problem points only to large scale ocean problems which most likely involve commercial fisheries or food chain disruption factors. To ignore those ocean factors and point to only counting fish on the Kenai River, is actually worse than doing nothing. If this Task Force did nothing at least someone else would attempt to pickup the ball and actually take a closer look at our statewide king loss issue. These proposed Kenai River escapement changes will do absolutely nothing to resolve our statewide king salmon problems.

If this Task Force is not able to address oceans issues or solutions, then it should have generated a solution statement which cited its inability to address that issue. The Task Force should have just said that our Kenai River king salmon problems begin within our oceans and are therefore outside this Task Forces ability to address. Shutting down sportfishing or flipping escapement numbers around on only the Kenai River is a completely meaningless suggestion and totally misses fulfilling the Task Force Mission. At this rate, each year we will be looking at less and less kings escaping into the Kenai River along with the rest of Alaska. That can only result in the total loss of the mighty Kenai River king salmon along with the ESSN's. Do you own a ESSN permit? With these kind of "OFFICAL SOLUTIONS" it is only a matter of time before it is TOTALLY $$ WORTHLESS.
So have fun while you can, cause you don't have much time left.

smithtb 01/17/13 - 08:13 am

Task force mission statement:

"The mission of this Task Force is to identify a set of recommended adjustments to the Kenai Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan (5AAC 21.359) that would result in the best mix of in-river (sport, guided, personal use) and Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishing opportunity while providing the best means of attaining the escapement goal for Kenai River late-run Chinook Salmon during times of low King Salmon abundance as experienced in 2012."

Seems pretty clear to me.

123, the facts seem to prove you wrong time and again. King salmon have not been in steady decline since the 1980's as you've stated time and again. In fact, we experienced record returns just a few years ago. Multiple years of overescapement along with a completely normal and natural cycle of decreased marine survival are likely the major contributing factors to this period of low abundance.

So once again, please stop with the misinformation.

borninak 01/17/13 - 08:55 am
Cyclic Salmon

Fishing in the 70's we faced some poor salmon returns and oh the doom and gloom. It was over! But then into the 80's and record returns. Everybody thought this was the new norm. It didn't last and the early 90's runs were down again only to peak once more a couple of years later. Run sizes will cycle up and down until eternity. Only a fool thinks what you see today will always be the way. One thing for sure about salmon is they will cycle up and down no matter what anybody believes is going on.

pengy 01/17/13 - 08:58 am

SmithB must be an ESSN. Harvesting our way to abundance is a poor management plan for a declining stock. Lowering the goals? Really? Pretty soon everyone will get a participation medal and we'll all sing kumbaya.

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