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Time for responsible management

Posted: June 14, 2011 - 9:02am

Yesterday, a fishing pal of mine excitedly exclaimed that we should “get bait” any day on our Kenai River king fishery. He seemed a bit taken aback when I sharply blurted “I hope not!”

Sure, like any angler, whether that be guide or private, local or tourist, I want to maximize my chances and hook as many fish as possible … but not at the expense of our resource or the future of our fishery. That would not only be selfish and short-sighted, but down-right irresponsible. Which is exactly how the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is acting with our early-run Kenai River king fishery.

Presently, the low-end of our early run escapement goal is set at 5,500 chinook, a relatively small number that is almost half of what past minimum escapement goals used to be. I’m no biologist, but common sense tells me this is pretty low for a large 81-mile river over a six-week period (May 15-June 30). But when you factor in recent admission by ADF&G managers that their sonar counter “may be off by as much as 50 percent” this number quickly becomes only 2,750 fish. Do you feel comfortable with less than 3,000 early run Kenai kings on our spawning beds? Do you think that is enough to propagate healthy returns for the future? Do you really believe that our children will enjoy reliable May and June Kenai king fishing with management like this?

No wonder our early run king fishing is so challenging the past few years. Many long-time locals know that our king runs are but a shadow of what they used to be. And this year is no different: despite good water conditions where scentless lures become most effective, catch rates so far have been only fair at best. This leads one to believe that there just aren’t that many kings in the river. Last June we went through similar woes and our managers reacted by jumping all over the map with their management actions, first abruptly closing our king fishery (with no step-down action, as the management plan calls for) while at the same time allowing a shady “cost recovery” net fishery near the mouth. Then, doing a sudden 180, they not only re-opened the Kenai king sport fishery to catch and keep, but allowed the use of bait. Adding injury to insult, they even let anglers fish kings above the bridge, harvesting the very fish that were totally “off limits” to all hook and line fishing (not netting though!) just the week before!

The bottom line: our managers are not being responsible with our fish. In my opinion, each and every one of us has an obligation to hold them accountable. Managing our early run on a razor’s edge with no “cushion” and then giving anglers bait early — so we can catch and kill more of the few kings we do have — is not sound management.

The question now is how do we get sound management?

Another fishing friend of mine (who is not a guide) bumped into a state park ranger last week at our beautiful Kasilof River boat launch. He asked him “why do we have a such a nice public put-in and no public take-out on a river that is mandated as drift boat fishing only?” The ranger quickly and nonchalantly replied, “There just hasn’t been a public out-cry for it.”

Are you kidding me? Does the state (whether it be ADF&G fishery managers or state park officials) really need and expect a “public outcry” before taking action? Do they actually desire angry town hall meetings and bull-headed license boycotts? Maybe they want to see sport anglers parading down Sterling Highway and Kalifornsky Road, with boats in tow, ultimately rallying in ADF&G’s parking lot like the summer of 1989?

I’ve got a better idea: how about the state just identifies and addresses “a need” and then acts on it responsibly. Currently, there are two barely acceptable private take-outs on the lower Kasilof, with the upper one (Coho Cove) recently sold and about to close to the public. This leaves only the mud-riddled Kasilof Cabins take-out, which is miles past the last fishing hole and often back-logged for hours as drift boats have no other options. Last year, sadly, an angler was even killed on the lower Kasilof in a tragic boat retrieval accident as a long-time local attempted to come-up with a better take-out option. If these facts don’t scream “a genuine need” to the state, what does?

Those who know me are well aware that I call ‘em like I see ‘em! Over the past two decades, I know that I’ve alienated many agency heads by speaking my mind and not pulling punches. That’s OK by me. Personally, I think that tip-toeing around and remaining politically correct is a big part of the problem here: anglers grumble amongst themselves while managers punch their 9-to-5 clocks, doing the bare minimum and not wanting to make the tough decisions that need to be made.

With that said, I think it is time to demand sound management. Make a bit of noise by contacting your local managers, their supervisors in upper management, the Board of Fish, and the Governor … demanding more accountability with prudent actions that not only provide decent access to our fisheries but also ensure sustainability of our unique resource.

Greg Brush is a concerned resident angler and guide.

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witchwitch 06/14/11 - 05:12 pm
Politicians set policy... results will be disasterous

I found it interesting that King escapement has been lowered to the point that it may not support sustainability. I believe that Red escapement has been raised to such a high level that fry now leave the river tiny and malnourished, which similarly doesn't support maximum returns. These decisions represent short term benefits for special interests who control the decision making process at the highest levels of state government.

Our system is run by politicians, who serve special interests. What do their special interest, big money contributors want? More fish NOW, so that they can make as much money as possible in the least amount of time.

When the fish runs are damaged or destroyed there will be no lack of excuses for the public. However, the guys pulling the strings behind the curtain will have their money in the bank and will strategically move on. They know how the game is played and can find another "sweet deal", another politician to buy, another resource to rape.

This is a primary example of how American way has failed and our children will suffer for it, just as the salmon runs have suffered, while our economy is positioned to collapse. Hopefully when we pick ourselves up from the destruction that we ourselves have caused, maybe then we'll realize what we have actually done and perhaps make some fundamental change to prevent it from happening again.

spybot 06/15/11 - 09:36 am
ADFG sets escapement goals, not politicians

Witchwitch comments are off base in regards to the accuracy of what is "believed" to be.

Escapement goals for the Kenai River salmon and every other river with salmon in Alaska are set by ADF&G through an escapement goal review team, led by scientists from both the commercial and sport fish divisions, not politicians.

The lower end of the biological escapement goal for early run Kenai River king salmon has varied through the years, from 4,000 to 7,700, based on brood year return results that are then evaluated every three years. The lower end of the biological escapement goal is 4,000 for early run Kenai River king salmon.

The current lower end optimal escapement goal of 5,300 for early run Kenai River king salmon is based on a 20% harvest rate for single hook, no bait - which the season starts off with - if the minimum escapement of 5,300 is projected to be met, then the minimum biological escapement of 4,000 will be met after subtracting the in-river harvest with single-hook, no bait.

ADFG is being precautionary at this point and not going to bait - given the uncertainty in counting kings at this point.

However, in the last decade, most every year the final count for early-run Kenai River king salmon has ended up above the upper end of the biological escapement goal of 9,000, even after subtracting the in-river harvest.

Regarding sockeye salmon, it is interesting that for all the fears projected about large escapements crashing the system on the Kenai River, this year's above average projected return for sockeyes (close to four million) comes primarily from the fry of the last of three large consecutive escapements from 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Just last year Roland Maw, executive director of UCIDA petitioned Governor Parnell to declare an emergency economic disaster for the commercial sockeye fishery in Cook Inlet - based on just this fear that no sockeyes would be returning from such large escapements into the Kenai River.

Guess what - last year was not an economic disaster for the commercial fishing industry as a lot more sockeye returned to the Kenai River than were projected from the doomsday model of "over-escapement" & brood year interactions that had the system crashing. The natural resiliency of sockeye salmon to large escapements on the Kenai River is once again happening this year - maybe we can finally put to rest the "over-escapement" mantra that the sky is falling for sockeyes on the Kenai River - it isn't.

The real conservation concern is for king salmon throughout the state, where many rivers are closed to in-river harvest of kings for subsistence, commercial and sport users.

witchwitch 06/15/11 - 11:16 am

Mantra's are a Hindu tradition and are generally not used to determine governmental policy or to stop the sky from falling, as you claim in your comment.

The facts are that the returns of sockeye in the eighties were much larger than past or subsequent decades, while the primary difference is the control of returns to the spawning rivers. Those controls were limited in earlier years and greatly liberalized in later years.

The returns following the Exxon Valdez oil spill have been poor and otften dismal. The excellent return of 1992 was the result of spawning from the years prior to the spill year of 1989 and the resulting huge over-escapement of that year.

It's a inconvenient FACT that the ADF&G is supported and controlled by the Governor and the Legislator. The fact remains that the Governor appoints ALL department heads and the Legislature creates their budget, while the Governor has the final word by exercising veto power, if he so chooses.

Claims that the process is led by scientists, fails to recognize the political reality of the situation.

akmscott 07/31/11 - 07:27 pm
Simple solution-cut

Simple solution-cut commercial quota's.

christiwp 11/29/11 - 11:13 pm
Oh my goodness! an incredible

Oh my goodness! an incredible article dude. Thanks Nevertheless I'm experiencing issue with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting similar rss problem? Anyone who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx
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stuartw13 01/04/12 - 01:34 am
Mis sold ppi nutational

Mis sold ppi nutational regularity Juegos de Bob tenomyoplasty Debarkation Juegos de carros video leaflet Bluebonnet

Raoulduke 01/04/12 - 07:54 am
Political Reality

Gov.Parnell was,and with his actions still is a lobbyist for the oil industry.Why not back the big business side of the fish industry? I think.He is.Parnell may be governor,but he is still a lobbyist for the highest dollar amount.This is the political reality of the state of Alaska.The best politician's money can buy.

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