On a day when the Alaska Board of Fisheries was scheduled to discuss the results of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force, members instead heard more than six hours of testimony from the remainder of the 112 members of the public who signed up to speak during the board meeting.
The overwhelming majority of the public testimony Wednesday touched on issues and proposals affecting the Upper Cook Inlet, including the proposal generated by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force.
Representatives from Fish and Game advisory committees, private and nonprofit interests around the state talked about their support or concerns with several of the 29 proposals regarding Alaska statewide finfish and supplemental issues.
Testimony continued until nearly 4:30 p.m. before the board was able to move on to its originally scheduled discussion on the task force results which will continue today.
Proposal 249, the proposal which was discussed by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force, received several written and spoken comments throughout the day.
Several members of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force testified on their position in relation to the task force and praised board members Tom Kluberton, of Talkeetna, and Vince Webster, of King Salmon, for their handling of contentious discussion between the in-river users and the East Side setnet commercial fishery in the inlet.
Representatives from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association — whose proposal was rejected by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force in favor of using task force sportfishing representative Dwight Kramer’s proposal as a basis for discussion — testified in favor of several of the provisions in their original proposal.
“We have submitted extensive comments on proposal 249, participated in the task force process … today I’ll provide an overview of our proposal to provide the best mix of fishing opportunity in the sport and commercial setnet salmon fisheries in times of low abundance,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the sportfishing association.
Gease said the sportfishing association supported a series of paired step down measures for both the in-river and commercial setnet fisheries.
Travis Every, an East Side Setnetter, said he was opposed to paired restrictions in the Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery.
“Paired restrictions are, for instance, when two user groups are exploiting the stock at the same rate,” Every said. “The East Side setnetters exploit the Kenai River kings at 13 percent while the in-river users exploit the Kenai River kings at 22 percent.”
Every said the 2013 forecast of 29,000 chinook salmon could withstand a 39 percent harvest from all user groups and still have a spawning escapement of 17,700 salmon.
“So, ideally, there shouldn’t be any need for an brake tapping for any fishery,” he said.
Ray Beamesderfer, a consulting fisheries scientists hired by KRSA to do an independent review of the new king salmon sustainable escapement goal, said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had extended their goal below the available data which was scientifically unsound.
“There’s been a couple of comments made during the course of the meeting here, I want to point out both ends of the spectrum,” Kluberton said to Beamesderfer.
He said comments on the Kenai king salmon run reconstruction indicated that salmon escapements began to fall off rapidly below 15,000 fish while another testifier said 13,000 to 17,000 fish was within the Fish and Game’s maximum sustained yield and therefore scientifically defensible.
“Somewhere between those two statements I think is where we’re going to find reality,” Kluberton said. “Can you kind of help us figure out where the middle of that range is?”
Beamesderfer said anytime the Department of Fish and Game went below 26,000 fish it did not have solid data and any goal below that point became an “exercise in expert judgment and opinion.”
Board Chairman Karl Johnstone said it was unusual for board members to get competing science.
“You come in here and you’re advocating that the department’s assessment may not be the best … but I assume you’re being paid to come here, paid for your time and paid your time in you assessment,” Johnstone said. “… If the department had come to you and asked for a review of your assessment would your conclusions be any different than they are now?”
Beamesderfer said his conclusions on the Department of Fish and Game’s data would be the same no matter which organization paid him to review it.
David Goggia, a sportfishing guide, said he opposed the Department of Fish and Game’s escapement goal on the Kenai River.
“We’ve lost 70 percent of our early run,” Goggia said. “If we lower the escapement goal in the late chinook run we will be headed in the same direction.”
Mike Crawford, head of the Kenai and Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee said he heard a lot of people talking about who caught what fish.
“I’m a small business owner in the community myself,” he said. “We hear about disaster loans to commercial fishermen and maybe to fishing guides and lodges … I’m sure that’s not available to the hardware stores or the restaurants or the waitresses or the girl making the espressos at the stand,” he said. “The fishery affects all the businesses on the Peninsula.”
Crawford said he did not want to see the river managed to the bare minimum of salmon escapement.
“Do we really need to run this thing down to the bare minimum every year?” Crawford said. “What happens when there’s environmental issues that cancel out large numbers of fish?”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.