King salmon will soon find it easier to slip a hook on the Kenai River.
During the 14th and final day of the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting in Upper Cook Inlet, the seven-member board considered a suite of proposals to modify the Cook Inlet sport fisheries — including one that the group modified to apply specifically to king salmon fishing on the Kenai River when managers designate the fishery as catch-and-release.
A United Cook Inlet Drift Association proposal would have restricted all catch-and-release fishing to single, unbaited, barbless hooks. UCIDA president David Martin called catch-and-release fishing “playing with your food” during public testimony.
“I believe it’s the only time we’ve ever adopted a regulation that talks about barbless hooks in the state,” said Board of Fisheries chairman Karl Johnstone. “We’ve had barbless hook regulations proposed in other fisheries, particularly in Bristol Bay and we didn’t quite pass them. I favor them for fisheries that were non-retention species.”
Johnstone joined board members Tom Kluberton, Fritz Johnson and Sue Jeffrey in a split 4-3 vote after two amendments were introduced — one defining barbless hook and the other restricting the proposal to just catch-and-release king fishing on the Kenai river.
“In my opinion, it’s a conservation measure,” Johnstone said. “It reduces handling time.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, regional fisheries management coordinator Matt Miller told board members that using barbless hooks would not reduce mortality in the fishery from releases of hooked fish.
“It’s going to be in the inefficiency of the gear,” he said.
According to ADFG commentary on the issue, angler efficiency is estimated to be reduced by between 11 to 24 percent in barbless hook fisheries “with young and inexperienced anglers disproportionately affected.”
The measure was one of several discussed at the board’s Lower and Upper Cook Inlet meetings.
During the Lower Cook Inlet meeting Miller presented research calling barbless hooks an allocation not just among user groups, but among anglers.
Dwight Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition supported the proposal during the Lower Cook Inlet meeting.
“There’s a big difference when you’re trying to release a fish and just clipping the hook out or not, it comes out a lot easier when there’s not a barb on it,” Kramer said.
The board opted to define a barbless hook as one that was manufactured barbless with a smooth bump on the shank, or a hook with a barb filed completely off or one with the barb crimped to the point that it makes contact with the shank.
The definition was important, said Mike Crawford, chairman of the Kenai and Soldotna Fish Game Advisory during his testimony on the issue at the Lower Cook Inlet meeting.
“In the past, I’ve received a citation in a barbless area when I had my barb bent over, but it grabbed his sweater,” Crawford said of an encounter with law enforcement in another state. “I intended to bend down the barb, but it wasn’t adequate for that guy and it cost me $95.”
Reed Morisky, one of three board members who voted in opposition to the proposal, said there was not enough science to prove that barbless hooks would be effective at reducing the mortality of catch-and-release fishing.
“The research that I’ve read on catch-and-release is that time out of water is more critical than barbless even,” Morisky said. “We’ve heard that this has no conservation value, it would be punitive to thousands of Alaskans.”
Johnson, who amended the proposal to include a definition of a barbless hook, said he thought anglers could learn to be effective without barbs.
“It requires a greater level of skill and attention to what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s something that would require evolution of ability. ... It encourages more deliberate fishing.”
After the meeting adjourned, Kenai River Profesional Guide Association President Steve McClure said he was happy to see a barbless hook regulation go into effect.
“I think it’s good they finally got something on the record,” he said. “They finally defined it, that’s been the hold-up.”
Johnstone said he had voted in favor of barbless hook proposals, in other parts of the state, to no avail and was happy to see one finally pass.
“It was totally unexpected to me,” Johnstone said. “I didn’t think we’d ever get to this point. I thought that I’d fallen on my sword enough times in the past and we weren’t going to get there. I was pretty surprised.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.