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Fish board imposes 'severe restrictions' on setnet fishery

Posted: February 5, 2014 - 9:50pm  |  Updated: February 6, 2014 - 2:15pm
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Sarah Frostad-Hudkings, left, and Amber Every, commercial setnet fishers, watch the Alaska Board of Fisheries deliberate a proposal to raise the escapement goal for Kenai River king salmon.  Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion
Sarah Frostad-Hudkings, left, and Amber Every, commercial setnet fishers, watch the Alaska Board of Fisheries deliberate a proposal to raise the escapement goal for Kenai River king salmon.

Emotions ran high Wednesday as the Alaska Board of Fisheries deliberated a board-member generated proposal that outlined a new plan to pair restrictions between commercial setnet fishermen and in-river fishers who harvest the struggling Kenai River king salmon stock.

As it became clear during deliberations that the board would be making substantive changes to the way the commercial setnet fisheries occur in July and August, more members of the group stood and moved away from the board to the back of the hall leaving the vast majority of the audience seats empty.

The restrictions to the commercial setnet fishery, if fully actuated, could result in a 50 percent reduction in effort causing an unknown reduction in sockeye harvest — the salmon species primarily targeted by the group.

Board member Tom Kluberton, board member from Talkeetna who introduced the new language, called the new management “severe restrictions” later during the meeting.

The language amends the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan to include “step-down measures” that board members said were meant to be paired with step-down measures in the in-river fishery when king salmon stocks are returning in low numbers.

According to the new plan, from July 1 to July 31, if the in-river return is projected to be fewer than 22,500 fish — the midpoint of the current escapement goal range of 15,000 to 30,000 king salmon — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game may limit the sportfishery to no bait, or catch-and-release fishing and the East Side setnet fishery will be capped at 36 hours per week.

Under the plan, if the in-river fishery is restricted to catch-and-release, setnetters will be limited to only one 12-hour period per week rather than the two regular 12-hour periods.

The 2014 preseason forecast for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon is estimated at 6.1 million fish across all rivers and streams, with 1.8 million needed for escapement, leaving 4.3 million available for harvest, or about 500,000 more fish than the 20-year average.

Under the old plan and if the 2014 forecast were to materialize, setnetters would have had up to 74 hours per week available to fish a sockeye run of that size. The plan also includes setnet gear reduction options that include potential limits on the number or size of the nets in the water.

When the fishery transitions into Aug. 1 — the date the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan ceases to apply — the projected escapement of king salmon into the Kenai River must be more than 22,500 fish or commercial set gillnet fishers will be restricted to 36 hours total for the two-week period.

Kluberton said he submitted the proposed changes after years of discussion with fishers who have been struggling to find a balance in harvest of abundant sockeye salmon when king salmon stocks are limited.

The move could allocate sockeye salmon out of the commercial fishery in order to limit the group’s harvest of king salmon, said Paul A. Shadura, an East Side setnet fisherman.

After the meeting, Shadura said that depending on the timing of the restrictions, sockeye from both the Kasilof River and the Kenai River would be removed from the setnet harvest as fishers remained on the beach, waiting for the chance to open under the heavy time restrictions.

“This is allocative. That’s our job,” said Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone.

Tracy Lingnau, Central Regional Supervisor for ADFG, said the 1,500 fish buffer that had been built into the August setnet fishery was more of a foregone harvest situation.

Technically, those 1,500 kings would be taken out of the setnet fishers’ allocation of kings, however the inriver sport fishers stop targeting kings on July 31 and are therefore not benefitting from the foregone harvest, he said.

The allocation was an “unavoidable consequence” of protecting vulnerable Kenai River king salmon stock for Kluberton.

“We’re being asked to turn a blind eye to kings and we just can’t do that,” he said after the meeting. “Our first priority is conservation.”

During later testimony, Kluberton reminded the audience several times that ADFG could use emergency order authority to liberalize the setnet fishery.

However, Jim Butler, a commercial setnet fisher and representative of the commercial fishing advocacy group the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said he did not believe the loss of fishing opportunity was being shared equally between the commercial and in-river users.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about pairing the burdens of dealing with this perceived conservation problem,” Butler said. “Now what we’ve seen is 50 percent of the opportunity that the East Side setnet fishery has, goes away. There has been nothing in the river that been changed except ‘not-bait.’ There’s been not one less motorboat day, not one more drift boat day, there has been no limitation on the number of hours the commercial guide industry fishes.”

Butler said he did not believe ADFG would open the setnet fishery for more hours in August until it reached the in-river return of 22,500 fish.

According to the ADFG preseason outlook for the late run of Kenai River king salmon, the total run is expected to be 19,700 fish.

“They put another 7,000 fish in the recommended goal for the river in August,” Butler said. “They’ve taken away the department’s management flexibility.”

Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a sportfishing advocacy group, said the board’s changes were necessary to protect king salmon.

“We support what the board did, it’s an important addition to the management plan,” he said.

Both Kluberton and board member Reed Morisky from Fairbanks said during deliberations that they supported the gear restriction options available to setnetters and welcomed new data that would come from some fishers using shorter nets.

There has been ongoing debate in public testimony and private commentary during the meeting on the lack of consistent data on whether king salmon run lower in the water column than sockeye salmon and could avoid being intercepted if setnetters were to use shallower nets.

Kluberton said new rules incentivized the use of shallower nets.

Morisky said the king salmon are too important to risk the health of the stock.

“What we’re talking about here is the state fish of Alaska. It’s not an Arctic grayling, it’s not a chum, it’s the king salmon … it’s our state symbol and we’ve taken it down to next to nothing,” he said. “These salmon have a great capability of springing back. If we manage this right, we could have our runs back and we could be trying to figure out what we’re going to do with a great abundance of kings and reds.”

The board action Wednesday increasing the in-river threshold for management decisions was a sharp turnaround from what took place the previous day.

Late Monday, Alaska’s Board of Fisheries agreed to raise the escapement goal for the late run of Kenai River king salmon, voted and adjourned for the evening, enraging many commercial fishers in the room who then split into small, animated groups arguing with others or pleading their cases to board members who stayed behind to listen to the criticism of the decision.

But, by 9 a.m. Tuesday, the same board shifted 180 degrees and voted on a motion to reconsider that left inriver guides and sport users in the same place their commercial fishing counterparts had been just the night before.

Even some in the commercial fishing community were unsure of what to make of the sudden reversal.

“We’ll see what comes next,” said Chris Every, a commercial setnetter who fishes sites immediately south of the mouth of the Kenai River.

Kluberton, one of four who voted in favor of raising the goal from its current range of 15,000 to 30,000 fish to 16,600 to 30,000, motioned to reconsider when the Board of Fisheries reconvened.

Kluberton, who had used the idea of providing a “buffer” for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game against putting too few fish in the river under the current escapement goal, reversed his opinion.

“What was brought to my attention last night alleviated those concerns by way of realizing that the department is ... they’re learning. They’ve got a new approach to managing this run. We have technology on the rivers that is changing and what I’ve learned is that they have adjusted their methodology,” he said. “I feel the board is not in a position at this point to have to add that extra bit.”

He said he did not want to interfere with what ADFG managers had already put into place.

Tuesday, however, when board member Sue Jeffrey suggested lowering the bottom end of the projected escapement from 16,500 to 15,000 needed in August to lift restrictions from the setnet fishery, Kluberton did not support the amendment.

He said he lacked confidence in the department’s ability to count king salmon in its new sonar program on the Kenai River.

“I just don’t feel that it is reasonable... to try and call it down to the bone at this time,” he said. “That might be something that changes when I see the (ADFG) approaching perfection in their enumeration. But I don’t feel that we should be managing to the lower end of the goal in the first place, especially when we’ve got a stock that’s on the edge or in decline as it is.”

Kluberton said he wanted to see a safety zone built into ADFG’s management, Wednesday during board deliberations.

“I would personally prefer to keep that 1,500 fish buffer in there ... I just don’t feel that I have the comfort level. We still have in that escapement and that run reconstruction, there’s still a 28 percent factor thrown in there for fish swimming behind the sonar. Signs are showing we’re getting better, but I don’t think we’ve perfected it to the extent that I’m comfortable.”

Several setnetters said they did not understand why their fishery was being so severely restricted without an increase in restrictions on inriver fishers.

Robert Williams, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, a commercial setnet advocacy group, said the idea of changing gear fishermen had been using for many decades was not supportable and was an imprecise management tool because ADFG could not quantify how many, if any, fish would be saved.

“There’s no data, there have been no tests,” he said. “There is no data whatsoever that says what will happen with shorter nets or fewer nets.”

The 750 setnet permits in the Cook Inlet are also fished differently depending on the terrain of the beach site, he said.

“There are too many variables. There are just too many variables to even know what just happened,” Williams said. “The other thing that really bugged me was — there was no action taken to ensure that these fish that we move through are going to adequately spawn or have any protection whatsoever.”

 

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

 

 

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cormit
236
Points
cormit 02/06/14 - 08:20 am
0
0
kings

Taking significant fishing time away from east side set-netters to get more kings in the Kenai River is not going to fix the king decline. Perhaps the day will come when the community .... and the BOF ...... will recognize the cumulative impact of 25 years of unlimited commercial guide pressure on Kenai kings .... including hooking and releasing egg laying females right on their spawning beds.

To the local businesses that think the sun rises and sets on the money generated by the in river fishing guide industry .... go ahead ...... celebrate your short lived victory.

The number of Kenai guides is down right now ..... not because they want to give the kings a break ..... but because they have successfully destroyed that component of the king run that their "high five'n" clients are willing to pay for.

The Cook Inlet east side set-net fishery has provided jobs and economic benefits to the peninsula for a hundred years ..... but we will sacrifice all that in order let Kenai River fishings guides finish off what's left of seriously over-molested run of once magnificent king salmon.

pengy
258
Points
pengy 02/06/14 - 08:57 am
0
0
ESSN's and sportfisherman

ESSN's and sportfisherman should both be mad about the decline of king returns statewide and be united in finding out what is happening in the oceans. Yes, the Kenai is the crown jewel, but when returns are in decline in watersheds that have no development on the banks, have no sport fishing pressure, and are completely stocked with king salmon smolt, you have to ask what is going on in the salt?

ESSN's and sportfisherman are both fighting over the scraps that make it back to UCI. Be united. That would be a great first step instead of pointing fingers at each other.

potomac
191
Points
potomac 02/06/14 - 09:16 am
0
0
saw this coming

so even though the last few years let too many reds up the river to destroy the return, reds are expected to have a huge return this year?? Sounds like the over excapement is a scam, yes they should shut off ALL king fishing period in all Kenai Peninsula rivers for a few years and see what difference it makes. There certainly is a problem, a big one either politics or lack of a study, isn't producing with all runs, even on Kodiak ,failing all over the state for that matter. I think you can blame all of the above, greed, sport, commercial sport guides, beach sets, open ocean bycatch, so if everyone would agree to this maybe something will come out of all these fish fights before all fishing everywhere is gone.

cormit
236
Points
cormit 02/06/14 - 11:35 am
0
0
kings

The destructive power boat hook and release frenzy .... right on the spawning grounds .... that awaits returning kings .... has succeeded in disrupting the very spawning event that we all depend on for future returns. At what point is a king off limits to molesting? Hooking and releasing does spawning kings no favor ....... it's time to quit pretending that this is an acceptable way to treat these great fish. They are not toys. All commercial fishing for kings should be moved to the salt water ....... that includes commercial river guides as well. Every effort should be made to provide reasonable conditions for the kings that make it back to the river. Reallocating these fish from one group to another ignores what we've allowed to happen to the spawning grounds.

pengy
258
Points
pengy 02/06/14 - 12:01 pm
0
0
Cormit, Tell me all about the

Cormit,

Tell me all about the destructive power boats killing the return to Ship Creek. How about all the destructive power boats on the Nelson River? Anchor, Ninilchik, Kasilof, etc.?

If we are in low abundance and every fish counts why would killing one in the saltwater be more ethical than killing one in the freshwater? A dead fish is a dead fish no matter where it's killed.

cormit
236
Points
cormit 02/06/14 - 01:36 pm
0
0
pengy

Pengy,

We will probably all agree that stuff is happening in the open ocean that is effecting our Kenai kings and kings from other rivers as well ..... and we will all remain interested in knowing where our kings go and what happens to the them when they're "out there".

But, until then there is plenty we can do right here at home ...... where especially those of us that live here .... must assume the responsibility that includes .... insisting that our spawning areas are maintained and respected .... above and beyond anyones harvest opportunity.

I grew up fishing kings at the mouth of Crooked Creek ..... all through the 60's and 70's. No one fished in the main stem Kasilof River ..... it was silty and we didn't know you could catch fish there. The Kenai was very similar.

Prior to 1980 .... the Kenai River saw very little boat traffic and sport fish effort compared to what was about to come. The community watched this boom happen and rejoiced in all the money it generated ..... and foolishly thought it would last forever. It didn't.

Kenai's biggest kings are main stem spawners ..... and the hottest fishing holes are "hot' because they are spawning beds. Why wouldn't we make those areas sanctuaries and limit the relentless boat traffic and fishing effort that occurred there? The 60 lb. kings that used those well known spawning areas are all but gone now ..... and instead we have a river full of jacks. Jacks spawn more jacks and their spawn has even a less chance of survival. Do you think hooking and releasing those kings ..... who knows how many times ...... somehow comes with no consequences?

My point is this: I think it is unfair and a waste of time to allocate fish back and forth from one group to another and ignore what is likely a much more serious problem. We have done a crappy job of caring for our known spawning areas on the Kenai and the Kasilof as well. Doesn't look like any of that's going to change anytime soon.

pengy
258
Points
pengy 02/06/14 - 04:57 pm
0
0
Cormit, Thank you for you

Cormit,

Thank you for you response. I understand your position much better.

KenaiKardinal88
512
Points
KenaiKardinal88 02/07/14 - 05:53 am
0
0
"SEVERE RESTRICTIONS" on Sportfishers

Poor headline.

The only severe restrictions were on the sportfishers - but I support them because they aim to protect the resource.

The commie fishers don't treat salmon like a shared resource and should be shut down - that would qualify as severe.

Raoulduke
3055
Points
Raoulduke 02/07/14 - 01:23 pm
0
0
around,and around

Still pointing fingers .The fishing groups .I mean ALL of them.If you are really serious about watching the grandchildren.Hell! Your children go fishing for Kings.You should ALL be for the closing of the fishery for the cause of conservation.So far all I have gotten out of this finger pointing rhetoric.Is the belief not one group cares as long as their group gets to fish.Money,or resource sustainability you decide.Sacrifice a little now.Is far better than to lose the fishery forever.You can not have it both ways.

Raoulduke
3055
Points
Raoulduke 02/07/14 - 08:12 pm
0
0
What is?

Again the goes the term"COMMIE FISHERS" please define the term.Is it a national security term of top secret status?or Do you not know the meaning of the term either?

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