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Setnetters sue for extra fishing hours

Posted: July 18, 2013 - 7:59pm  |  Updated: July 20, 2013 - 3:40pm
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion  Several of the Smith's 270 fish tumble into a tote at Doug Blossom's Icicle Seafood's receiving station Thursday June 27, 20130 south of Clam Gulch, Alaska.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Several of the Smith's 270 fish tumble into a tote at Doug Blossom's Icicle Seafood's receiving station Thursday June 27, 20130 south of Clam Gulch, Alaska.

Editor's Note: A paragraph in this article incorrectly stated that the Kenai River had met the lower end of its escapement goal. While several hundred thousand sockeye salmon have been counted by the Kenai River's sonar, that count is not the final escapement as significant harvest of the run happens upstream of the sonar. 

A coalition of commercial fishermen have sued the Alaska Department of Fish and Game over its management of the 2013 sockeye run and requested that the court compel the Fish and Game commissioner to allow up to 51 hours of extra fishing periods for Upper Cook Inlet setnetters.

In its 19-page lawsuit the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund — a commercial fishing advocacy group — accuses the commissioner of Fish and Game of reallocating fish from the commercial groups to other user groups by refusing to allow commercial setnet fishermen extra hours of fishing during the heaviest portions of the sockeye salmon run.

Setnet fishermen stand to lose between $20,000 to $30,000 a day when shut out of the fishery, according to the lawsuit.

Two affidavits filed by local setnet fishermen estimate losses of more than $200,000 during the 2012 season when setnet fishermen on the east side of Cook Inlet were largely kept out of the water.

Mark Ducker, a longtime commercial setnet permit holder and vocal advocate for commercial fishing, accused Fish and Game of targeting setnet fishermen for closure again during the 2013 season, while allowing other user groups to fish on what is shaping up to be near record runs of sockeye on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

By Wednesday more than 363,000 sockeye have been counted in the Kasilof River — exceeding the river’s biological escapement goal; on Tuesday more than 240,000 sockeye swam past the sonar on the Kenai River. 

Ducker estimated that he lost between $300,000-$400,000 during the 2012 season while Doug Blossom, a setnet permit holder and president of the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, estimated his losses at more than $200,000 last season.

According to the affidavit, Ducker saw drift gillnet fishermen near the Kasilof fishing close to his beach setnet sites when he was kept out of the water.

“I watched as drift gillnet boats fished directly next to my set gillnet buoy. In fact, drift gillnet boats were seen fishing inside the set gillnet boundaries,” Ducker wrote in his affidavit. “The Commissioner prevented set gillnet permit holders from fishing out of fear for king salmon, but drift gillnet fishermen — using the same nets I use — fished within inches of my site.”

A hearing has been set for Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage.


Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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kenai123 07/24/13 - 03:22 pm
if I were a set netter?

There was a time when commercial set net fishing was a valid and honorable occupation. That was before it was corrupted by the love of money. I am so personally grateful that I have not had easy access to any commercial fisheries set gill net site leases. If I would have been born into it or been given a beach site, I to would no doubt be so completely conflicted on our fisheries issues that I could not even see straight. Having a set net beach site would so completely corrupt my mind that I would not be able to see fisheries issues clearly. Today money equals fish and we all know that there is no such thing as "enough money" so there is therefore no such thing as a person having enough fish within commercial set net fishing. Greed is a fisheries killer and has killed many a fishery.

Sport fisheries may have a slight connection to money but that distant connection is nothing compared to the giant financial forces which would be swirling around in my head if I were a commercial set netter. I will always be grateful to not be compromised on fisheries issue with commercial set net conflicts.

kenai123 07/27/13 - 03:19 pm
Over escapement?

pengy Over escapement is a myth? Strong runs of sockeye the last few years have come from "over escaped"?

I just got done reading our Cook Inlet, east side commercial set gill netters, ESSN latest attempt to justify their continued destruction of our Kenai River king salmon. These set netters are now alleging that the lack of Kenai River kings is due to king salmon over-escapement! It doesn't seem to matter to these set netters that anglers have NOT been able to catch very many kings on the Kenai River for about 10 - 15 years.
The public has seen a dramatic reduction of kings for a long time now on the Kenai and our commercial set netters now claim that the public is completely "out to lunch" and has no idea of what they are talking about? The truth is that any person who tries to make this kind of claim is very ignorant of the king and sockeye salmon life cycle. Kings may hatch in a river like sockeye but after that they live very different lives. King fry live within rivers and do not move to lakes like sockeye fry. Over-escapement theory, OET was dreamed up with regard to having to many sockeye fry arriving in a lake with less than sufficient plankton to feed them all winter, therefore they all starve to death.

King fry live a completely different life from these lake feeding sockeye fry. King fry live by foraging for food within a river, they are feeders of opportunity. If they see a bug, they will stalk and attack it, sockeyes won't do this. If a king fry sees a small bit of decomposing residual adult carcass, they will chase it down and consume it, sockeyes won't do this. Kings are carnivore and feed mainly on things like piscivore, insectivore, fish, mollusks, aquatic crustaceans and some zooplankton. Sockeyes are vegetarian feeder as they mainly feed on planktivore and arthropods. Sockeye fry are not carnivore, they do not feed like king fry. Over-escapement theory is valid general theory for salmon but must be applied to a specific stock and location to be valid. Over-escapement theory cannot be cross applied from river to river or lake to lake. I am directly requesting that anyone who believes over-escapement is the reason for our lack of kings in the Kenai River, to please publish your scientific data proving it.

Sockeye Over-Escapement Theory, OET does not consider that king fry consume meat from past seasons of salmon carcasses. How could OET consider this carcass feeding factor when it lacks a way to actually calculate the amount of carcass feed available in the Kenai River? OET also lacks the ability to calculate any of the other things king fry feed on. In order to calculate the capacity of a lake to carry sockeye fry you need to simply measure anything which allows more plankton to survive in that lake. In order to do the same for king fry you need to measure a couple dozen carnivorous forage items which they may feed on. Calculating over-escapement for king fry would be
much more difficult than calculating sockeye over-escapement. There are so many factors which may affect sockeye winter survival that it is practically impossible to correctly calculate if OET can in fact become reality. Over-escapement theory may be valid theory but "so far" we have not even proved over-escapement of sockeye salmon on the Kenai River. Every time we have allowed more sockeye salmon to escape into the Kenai, we have seen even larger returning adult sockeye runs. Since sockeye OET has never even been proved on the Kenai River, how could anyone attempt to prove that king over-escapement exists?

I therefore conclude that (Kenai River king over-escapement theory) is even more non-scientific than (sockeye over-escapement theory). These ESSN's are attempting to improperly apply sockeye over-escapement theory to king salmon and the two fish have very little incommon when it comes to winter survival. This improper comparison is like attempting to compare gazing cattle to hunting wolf's without studying what either animal feeds on. Would anyone call that true science? If you desire to use over-escapement theory with regard to king salmon please show us the
science to support an actual lack of inriver feed for our king fry? Please show us the scientific studies and the data which have calculated the total inriver feed available to king fry BEFORE you begin using general over-escapement theory on the Kenai River, without the evidence to support the application.

In conclusion; over-escapement theory currently remains (only a theory) on the Kenai River because the theory deliberately ignores huge contributing feed factors which
can increase or decrease the survivability of a salmon. Over-escapement theory does not even consider lake or river's nitrogen or phosphorous levels resulting from salmon carcasses. These factors can greatly expand or reduce the ability of a system to support many more salmon fry but over-escapement theory specially refuses to even address them. I have therefore concluded that over-escapement theory (is not valid science) with regard to the lack of king salmon on the Kenai River.

ESSN's have attempted to mis-applied over-escapement theory to the Kenai River and current fisheries science does not support their attempt. A person can contact any of our ADF&G offices statewide and they will inform them that all of Alaska's king salmon rivers are currently experiencing a
lack of king salmon. This is actual (fisheries science) and not (fisheries theory). ESSN fisheries are trying to use (fisheries theory) in place of (fisheries science). We need to take a real look at why our rivers are experiencing a lack of kings. Are these ESSN's claiming that all Alaskan rivers are experiencing king salmon over-escapement? All of Alaska's rivers are NOT experiencing king over-escapement therefore (king salmon over-escapement theory) on the Kenai River fails even the simplest test of fisheries logic.

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