ANCHORAGE — Anglers hoping to land a king salmon on the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Stariski Creek in the early part of July will find the task more difficult, but not impossible, after the Alaska Board of Fisheries approved a modified proposal which would have kept the areas closed but will instead restrict the type of gear that can be used.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game proposal was submitted to the statewide board in the interest of protecting king salmon which are holding and migrating through the areas during the first two weeks of July.
During low water levels in early July, king salmon build in the lower two miles of the river and are slow to swim upstream, making them vulnerable to release mortality by anglers targeting other species, according to Fish and Game data.
Anglers are primarily fishing for Dolly Varden during that time period but sometimes target king salmon under the guise of fishing for other species, said Fish and Game staff during their testimony.
“This has been a situation in which we’ve gotten a lot of reports about people that are fishing in these holes in the Anchor River, in particular that king salmon are holing up and we’re catching and releasing,” said Fish and Game Cook Inlet regional fisheries management coordinator Tom Vania. “Enforcement has to be there every day in that fishery to enforce that ... it’s more than just conservation that we’re looking at.”
Kodiak-based board member Sue Jeffrey said it sounded like an enforcement issue rather than a conservation issue.
Fish and Game staff had considered several other options in the fisheries, including gear modification that would make it difficult to land a king salmon and reducing the area available to sport fishing, and the complexity of the issue caused some consternation with Vania as well, he said.
“We understand taking away opportunity, it’s serious for us,” Vania said. “This wasn’t easy for us and I’m still wringing my hands over it,” he said.
When board members took up the proposal Tuesday, they had not reached consensus after more than half an hour of discussion.
“This is a tough one especially because of the timing — the first two weeks in July,” Jeffrey said. “Everyone is getting full bore into summer recreation ... would you be able to use preseason (Emergency Order) ... and do what you’re asking us to do regulation?”
The Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition opposed the proposal on the grounds that it would restrict Dolly Varden, or trout, fishing.
“Trout gear and king gear are quite different and anyone targeting kings should be obvious to enforcement officials,” according to the group’s public comments.
Guide Gary Sinnhuber, member of the Homer Fish and Game Advisory committee, also opposed the proposal.
“If this proposal became regulation, not counting the 9 days that we are allowed to fish for King Salmon on Deep Creek and Ninilchik Rivers, we would only be allowed to fish for 3.5 months from July 15 through October 31st,” he wrote in his public comments.
After going off-the-record and discussing the issue with the several users in the room, the board went back on the record to vote in favor of a modified proposal with alternate regulatory language submitted by Vania.
Instead of being closed out of the fishery, anglers will be restricted to one, unbaited, single-hook and an artificial lure from July 1-15 in the fisheries.
Board members are expected to take up the remainder of the Lower Cook Inlet proposals including the use of sport-caught pink, chum and spiny dogfish as bait, the use of archery gear for sport fishing and decreasing the winter saltwater king salmon bag and possession limit, before adjourning Wednesday.
Reach Rashah McChesney at email@example.com.