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A king-sized divide

Upper Cook Inlet Task Force meetings end with suggestions, but very little consensus

Posted: February 16, 2013 - 9:05pm  |  Updated: February 17, 2013 - 11:27am
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Upper Cook Inlet Task Force members Jim Butler, Tom Kluberton and Ken Coleman work to modify the final language of a set of proposals on step down measures for the commercial set gillnet fleet in the Cook Inlet Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at the Challenger Center in Kenai, Alaska.  The 11-member task force was unable to come to a unanimous consensus on several of the recommendations.  The list will be presented to the Board of Fisheries for discussion during their March meeting.   Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Upper Cook Inlet Task Force members Jim Butler, Tom Kluberton and Ken Coleman work to modify the final language of a set of proposals on step down measures for the commercial set gillnet fleet in the Cook Inlet Thursday Feb. 14, 2013 at the Challenger Center in Kenai, Alaska. The 11-member task force was unable to come to a unanimous consensus on several of the recommendations. The list will be presented to the Board of Fisheries for discussion during their March meeting.

After more than nine hours of discussion, the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force generated a proposal at their last meeting on Thursday that will be presented to the Board of Fisheries in March.

Despite efforts to come to an agreement, only one item on the list gained a consensus vote among the members, while nearly every other issue addressed ended in a split vote.

Co-chairs and Board of Fisheries members Vince Webster and Tom Kluberton did not vote.

The Thursday meeting was the last one for the task force which began meeting Nov. 16, 2012 come up with a set of adjustments to the Kenai Late-Run Salmon Management Plan.

What the group — a mix of sport fishermen, personal use fishermen, commercial and guided sport fishermen — worked to find was how to equitably share fishing opportunities during times of low king salmon abundance.

While Task Force members Kevin Delaney, Luther Anderson and the three setnetting representatives generated proposals, the group settled on Dwight Kramer’s proposal during second half of the meeting and worked to craft language everyone could agree upon.

Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Association and one of two sportfishing representatives on the task force, generated a one-page proposal which he said was aimed at protecting the resource while still allowing for harvest opportunity.

According to his proposal, several actions will be taken in both the sportfishing and commercial fishing fisheries if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game projects by July 21 that late run king salmon escapement will fall below the sustainable escapement goal of 15,000 fish.

■ Change the sustainable escapement goal to an optimum escapement goal of 13,000 to 30,000 to allow latitude for Fish and Game to assess uncertainties in run timing.

■ Restrict the in-river sport fishery to no bait

■ Change the East Side Setnet Fishery to be managed by EO authority to allow harvest of large pulses of sockeye. The mandatory 36 hour commercial closure window on Fridays would remain in place.

■ Restrict the marine sport fishery north of Bluff Point to no bait.

■ Close the personal use fishery to king salmon harvest.

According to Kramer’s proposal, if Fish and Game projected an optimum escapement goal to fall below 13,000 it would close all fisheries. After Aug. 1 the in-river sport fishery would be closed by regulation and the commercial fishery would revert back to the regular management plan.

Members of the task force did not come to a consensus on changing the SEG to an OEG. Five voted in favor of the change; four against.

As with many of the votes, the four commercial fishing representatives and Kramer voted in favor of the change, while the marine recreation representative, personal use, one sportfishing representative and the guided sportfishing representative voted against the change.

Several changes were made to Kramer’s suggestions on the East Side Setnet Fishery.

According to the final vote the group suggested pairing no bait in the sport fishery with halving all available hours for the East Side Setnetters, depending on which tier of the sockeye salmon management plan they were operating under or:

■ Pairing restrictions in the commercial and sport fisheries when the in river users were restricted to catch and release.

■ Pairing catch and release in the in-river fishery with either a 12 or 18 hour cap on the East Side Setnet hours.

The marine recreation representative amended the marine sport fishery proposal to change the no bait boundary to be the South Anchor River conservation marker and six representatives voted in favor with three against.

The group came to a consensus on leaving the 36 hour Friday window in place and on lifting restrictions if the department predicted escapement numbers greater than their 15,000 sustainable escapement goal before Aug. 1.

On several occasions the commercial setnet fishing representatives and Kevin Delaney, one of the sport fishing representatives clashed over his assertion that the in-river fishery restrictions should be paired equally with restrictions in the setnet fishery.

Delaney’s proposal contained step down measures leading to closures in both fisheries and a “buffer zone” for Fish and Game to slowly lower exploitation rates on fish between the two fisheries.

Robert Williams, setnet representative, said the commercial fishery and sport fishery did not harvest chinook salmon at the same rates and therefore should not be restricted in the same way.

“We’re looking at a 13 percent exploitation rate in our fleet from 1986 to 2011 and to me, this plan is more restrictive then what we’ve had in the past,” Williams said.

The group came back to this point on several occasions as the setnet fleet agreed to cut their time in half when the sport fishery was restricted.

“I don’t recall a time when there’s been parity between the setnet harvest ... and the river,” said Ken Coleman, setnetting representative. “We start from a level of less harvest to begin with and you’re trying to pull us up to a 50/50 split and I think there’s a disparity there.”

The group also discussed how the setnet fleet would be fished if their hours were reduced and Fish and Game were to manage by EO authority.

“You have to try to gauge what’s going to happen for the whole week, I don’t want to burn 24 hours in one day,” said Pat Shields, commercial area biologist for Fish and Game. “I’m going to wait until we see sockeye.”

The group also discussed the exact percentage of harvest lost in the in-river king fishery when it was restricted to no bait.

Dennis Gease, personal use fishing representative, said when the river is restricted to no bait he does not fish.

“I may as well sit in my living room... as far as no bait goes, there’s no fishing,” Gease said. “You know that, everyone in Kenai knows that.”

The setnetting representatives argued that when the in-river fishery was restricted to no bait or catch and release in the king fishery, they still had opportunity to fish.

“You can catch every other fish on the river ... you just can’t catch kings,” Butler said.

Ultimately the group’s proposal will be considered during the March 5 Board of Fisheries meeting and potential changes to the management plan will only be in effect for one year before the issue is taken up again during the 2014 Board of Fisheries cycle.

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lodgemanager 02/19/13 - 05:44 am
Kenai River Kings

As I'm out spending thousands of dollars trying to get people to come to our area the bad news never ends !!!! Both sides have a right to fish and we do not even know what this year has to bring yet and we are all ready trying to restrict the way each sides fish.

I'm all for letting the people we pay to make those decisions make them . A - " No Bait " decision for the in river use at this time is totally unfair especially in July and some the the Commerical Fishing regualtions would be unfair to them also. Lets wait and see how things pan out when the fish start running before we jump to any unwanted restrictions . Let the powers to be make that decision when the run of fish dictates that .

With all the bad news in print it is very hard to get people to come to our area . If this continues we will all go broke and I mean the Sport Fishing and the Commerical Fishing ! This area can not exisit with out toursim and you all are giving a clear signal to those thinking of coming to Alaska -
STAY AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bill Davis
Salmon Catcher Lodge

Les is an idiot
Les is an idiot 02/19/13 - 10:12 am
We will survive

The kenai was here long before the tourists and will be here long after. The thought that we cannot survive without them is ridiculous. I for one would survive just fine without them.

AKNATUREGUY 02/19/13 - 05:20 pm
Close King Salmon Fishing?

Bill Davis makes some interesting points, but we can't wait until disaster shows up again, Bill. Every year for the last 15 years or so, the King Salmon sport fishing success on the Kenai River has pretty much declined. There is no hiding this fact.

Last season when F & G closed the river to retention of any Kings, the lodges, guides and locals just kept hammering the Kings under the catch & release opportunity. Numerous Kings were most likely killed.

If we want a sustainable sport fishing King Salmon resource, the antiquated setnet fishery should be bought out by the State of Alaska and the Kenai and Kasilof King Salmon fishing should be closed for a number of years. This includes no catch & release.

If Bill Davis and other lodges and guides want more tourists and more $$$$, then conservation of the King Salmon resource and it's habitat may be the only answer to better fishing in the future.

Kapco 02/19/13 - 08:21 pm
Focus of Task Force

The focus of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force was to establish a set of regulatory step down measures in case of low abundance. Low abundance is the key phrase here. lodgemanager, above, stated that the powers that be should make regulatory changes when if and when the fish runs dictate changes. Well, that is exactly what the mission of this task force is/was to determine the regulatory measures at times of low abundance. One of the major "king sized divides" as the Clarion puts it was in trying to establish a number that defines low abundance. That will be the main issue that BOF needs to solve and if they look at what the task force will be bringing them, they will see that although there was not consensus on a number with the task force members, there is some solid ground that was gained in the process. I highly encourage fishery participants like lodgemanager to be sure they have a handle on what this task force was all about because in the end, it was supposed to give participant groups an opportunity to voice their viewpoints and recommendations. Overall this was not a message to people to stay away but an attempt at involving all participants in getting a better handle on how emergency situations are handled so we don't see a repeat of 2012.
As far as that and comments made by alaskanatureguy goes, it turns out that we should not of had a closure in 2012 or at least not one that was so drastic. If the king numbers are dwindling, which they are, statewide, so have the numbers of guides and overall pressure on the kings. Closing the rivers and the set net fisheries does nothing but cause economic distress throughout the peninsula communities. Having a plan for times of low abundance is a huge step towards a balance in conservation and economic factors. And lastly, even if you shut the rivers down for a few years, the natural and mostly man made (by catch) negative ocean conditions are most likely the largest contributor(s) in the statewide decrease in king runs and should be the focus of intense scrutiny.

sparky 02/19/13 - 09:13 pm

I agree with the by-catch problem.I firmly believe that when & if that problem is corrected,the low abundance issue with the Kings,will go away.
As for the 2012 season,I think Fish & Game did what had to be done to save every fish they could.As a Lower Kenai River sport fisherman for the Reds,what we REALLY enjoyed was NO SET NETS.We call them the "IRON CURTAIN".When they are out fishing,there isn't a fish to be had.They get everything.Not as noticable when only the drifters are out.It seems to me,that the escapement goals,for the Reds,could be well managed without the Set Nets.

smithtb 02/20/13 - 07:37 am
Check your facts

AKNATUREGUY, You need to check your facts. As recently as 2004-06, Kenai King salmon returns were at record levels. Record levels of inriver guides, record levels of participation, record levels of boats and pollution on our river, record levels of harvest, and record levels of escapement. It has not been declining for the last 15 years. Classic case of the older you get, the better it used to be. Unfortunately, it's just not true.

Sparky, The Kenai river is managed for a very healthy inriver goal of 1.35 MILLION Sockeye that was set to accomidate sport harvest. If the setnets are fishing, that means that there is an abundance of Sockeye. This year, that inriver goal was exceeded with nearly 1.6 MILLION Sockeye swimming past the counter. While it may have provided great fishing for you this year, escapements of this level are proven to diminish future returns, just like the record King escapements of years past that have helped contribute to this current period of low abundance. Perhaps you should look at the science behind escapement goals rather than just blame someone else every time you can't catch fish.

Kapco 02/20/13 - 10:33 am
Checking facts

This is a quote from the article above, “We’re looking at a 13 percent exploitation rate in our fleet from 1986 to 2011 and to me, this plan is more restrictive then what we’ve had in the past,” Williams said.
In breaking down the data provided by ADFG on the late run king harvest from 1986-2011 the numbers do not bear out the 13% figure. With numbers for the ESSN fishery adjusted down for genetic variability, the ESSN harvest of kings was 33% of the entire harvest while the in river harvest was 53% of the total harvest. The remaining 4 groups, marine sport, comm. drift, personal use and subsistence make up the 14% balance of the entire harvest. Although the ESSN fishery does not take as many as the river as Williams states, it seems disingenuous to put out figures that are not just incorrect but way off.
It is crystal clear that, in times of low abundance, the two participant fisheries that make up 86% of the entire harvest should be where emphasis should be placed when considering methods of reducing harvest.
The river is the easier of the two to manage as it is proven that going to no bait reduces harvest by 60% (give or take) and that a hook and release regulation takes the vast majority of participants off the water.
Reduction fishing time seems the logical response to the ESSN fishery in decreasing king harvest. If the river is restricted then so should the ESSN fishing time. If the river is closed entirely, so should the ESSN as well as all other fisheries.
It does not seem that we are too far from agreement on this regulation in low abundance issue but when incorrect figures are used as tools in one's argument, they do nothing but cloud the waters leading to meaningful resolution of this or any issue.

Akmommato2 02/21/13 - 02:07 pm
Exploitation rates

Exploitation rates are not proportionate to total harvest. They are proportionate to the total run.
Average annual exploitation rate break down:
In-river sport fish 22%, ESSNs 13%, others 4% of the total king run.
If 100 kings swim by in river sport takes 22 ESSNs take 13 and other users take 4 (based on annual averages).

Link to ADF&G exploitation break down.

Kapco 02/21/13 - 09:32 pm
Understand clarification

I understand the clarification on the exploitation numbers...I was talking about percentage of actual harvest and missed the exploitation aspect of Mr. Williams' comment so I respectfully retract my "disingenuous" comment.
Either way you look at it, the vast majority of the exploitation and harvest comes from the ESSN and in-river fisheries, emphasizing the importance of meaningful regulatory step downs in times of low late run king abundance for these fisheries.

Suss 02/22/13 - 07:18 am
No Bait

You can catch Kings without bait, when the river is quiet, as it is on drift boat only Mondays, it is a pleasure to fish and a true fishing experience that rivals any world class fishing trip. Yes, it takes skill and local knowledge combined with a desire to enjoy the true beauty of what has been denied to so many of the warrior combat motorized fishing fanatics. The ability to see and fish this glorious river by drift boat is like the difference between heaven and hell.

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