ANCHORAGE — Significant changes to the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan will be up for deliberation this morning.
Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, originally submitted a proposal to create paired restrictions for the commercial, sport and personal-use fisheries.
Board member Tom Kluberton asked Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff to produce a version that outlined provisions for how the department would manage when the in-river return was expected to be fewer than 22,500 fish, specifically detailing that the restrictions were intended to meet the escapement goal and provide reasonable harvest opportunity on the stock.
The management plan directs ADFG in how it manages the fisheries that harvest Kenai king salmon, whether as targeted or incidental catch. Changes to the plan are just a few of more than 200 proposals before Alaska’s Board of Fisheries at its triennial Upper Cook Inlet fisheries meeting at the Egan Center, in Anchorage.
When the draft up for discussion was released — after a multi-hour break in board discussion — the room broke into pockets of intense discussion between fisheries stakeholders, board members, and ADFG staff.
Ninilchik commercial fisherman David Martin called a proposed 22,500 fish level essentially a new escapement goal that was a back door approach to shutting down setnetters by allocating fishing opportunity to the sport sector.
Under Kluberton’s draft, in July, when king retention was prohibited in the Kenai, the setnet fishery would have no more than 12 hours of fishing time per week. ADFG would also be able to prohibit king retention in the personal-use fishery and could provide no more than 36 hours of fishing per week where setnetters were limited in the number of nets they could put in the water and the size of those nets.
From Aug. 1-15, setnetters could receive up to two 12-hour fishing periods if between 16,500 and 22,500 kings were expected.
Kluberton’s draft wouldn’t change the management plan when a run of less than 15,000 fish is expected.
The restrictions, however, don’t pair a no-bait limitation with a reduction in time for setnetters, a position KRSA scientist Kevin Delaney had strongly supported. And the language says “may,” rather than “shall,” as KRSA suggested.
Prior to Kluberton’s draft, KRSA had submitted a new version of its proposal that would extend the restrictions to the Kasilof section, prevent commercial drift fishers from fishing near the shore when setnetters were shut down, and addressed the marine water sport fishery as well as in-river users, among other changes.
Ricky Gease, executive director of KRSA, said the pairings created parity between the all Kenai king salmon users.
Last summer, in the effort to prosecute the commercial fishery, there was enough king harvest to shut down commercial and sport users, Gease said.
“We asked the Board of Fisheries to provide the department with the directions of how to allocate the burden of conservation and we hope that at the end of this process the department has that clear direction about what it shall do,” Gease said.
Offering the department flexibility allows them to make allocative decisions, he said.
But what Gease describes as parity, some commercial fishermen see as an unfair effort to reduce their fishing opportunity.
Setnetter Christine Brandt said the plan allows sport users several days of fishing each week, while commercial fishermen would be severely restricted in available fishing periods.
“They still have opportunity,” Brandt said.
Before the board deliberates the proposal, it will have to agree to substitute the language in Kluberton’s draft for the language found in the original proposal.
It’s likely that the board will have additional versions of the late-run plan to consider when it goes back on the record this morning, and the board could also introduce an entirely different proposal.
Board chair Karl Johnstone encouraged the public to talk to board members and submit their own comments and drafts when the meeting ended for the day on Tuesday.
Users will not get the chance, however, to weigh in publicly on the issue.
Commercial fisherman Ken Coleman said that didn’t surprise him, given the emotions surging in the room on Tuesday. However, he wanted to see Wednesday’s proceedings slowed down somewhat, he said, so that people had time to respond to each version of the management plan that was submitted and any new information.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.