Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect angler Jim Stubbs' affiliation with the southern portion of the Cook Inlet.
ANCHORAGE— When Lynn Whitmore goes after king salmon, he motors away from the Lower Cook Inlet shoreline and off in search of a foreigner.
Feeder kings, or king salmon not yet bound for their natal stream to spawn, are his targets and, he said, fishing on them is a good way to avoid putting pressure on declining Cook Inlet king salmon stocks.
Whitmore and others discussed the marine recreational fishery for king salmon during their testimony before the Alaska Board of Fish Lower Cook Inlet finfish meeting in Anchorage.
A handful of the 45 proposals before the board — each representing a change in current fisheries regulation in the Lower Cook Inlet — could have an effect on the fishery that targets kings.
After giving their testimony, Whitmore and Jim Stubbs, a representative of the Anchorage Fish and Game advisory committee, spoke about the year-round king fishery and its draw for anglers.
“It has gotten to the point that a lot of guys fish on these feeder kings and fill — you can take five kings on your license — they use all five feeder kings on their license,” Stubbs said. “We’ve seen a progression in fishing in the marine saltwater that used to go out and catch spawners as they come by, to where now, if they catch a spawner, they can look at it … and release that fish and then just concentrate on feeder kings.”
Stubbs said he supported the growing feeder king fishery, though he voiced his opposition to a proposal that would allow anglers to continue fishing for kings without having them apply to an annual limit from April 1 to May 1.
Stubbs said during his testimony that he was open to increasing the amount of time an angler could fish on feeder kings without having the fish apply to an annual limit, however did not support pushing the date back to May as many Cook Inlet-bound spawning kings are in the area by that date.
Stubbs also opposed a proposal that would decrease Cook Inlet saltwater king salmon bag and possession limits to one fish and establish an annual limit of two king salmon.
“The majority of the fish that are caught out there are feeder kings,” he said to the board.
Carol Kerkvliet, assistant area management biologist in the Homer office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said feeder kings were present in the Lower Cook Inlet year round.
ADFG studies have shown they’re caught further offshore than Cook Inlet fish, she said and some anglers are deliberately fishing in areas where they’re more likely to catch feeders than spawners.
She attributed the shift in fishing pressure on both angler attempts at conservation and ADFG restrictions that force anglers to find different places to fish.
Whitmore said he had witnessed a push from within the marine fishery to target king salmon, though he estimated that fewer people were participating in the winter troll fishery in recent years.
More anglers, he said, were choosing to move their boats offshore during the early and late run king salmon season and continue to target feeder kings.
It’s a shift he doesn’t blame entirely on conservation.
“A feeder king is not going to spawn any time soon and they’re up here grazing and putting on (fat),” he said. “That’s the sweet kind of king you want to eat. We’ve discovered that the spawners and inriver fish, they’re kind of dry and blasé and these are kind of the prime of the prime.”
Whitmore said the guilt-free fishing for a delicious fish was a combination some anglers found irresistible.
“We’re hard core sport fishermen and it’s not always about us and so it’s a two-pronged deal. It’s a win, win,” he said. “We get better fish and we get fish stocks built back up so sometime we can go back and fish on that river like we love to do.”
The Lower Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting resume today in Anchorage and will continue through Wednesday. Audio of the meeting can be found at www.adfg.alaska.gov.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org