A king-sized divide

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

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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