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Are our Kenai kings done?

Posted: August 4, 2011 - 9:35am

August is finally here and Kenai king fishing is done, hopefully for the season and not forever. July 31 was the last legal day of sport-fishing chinook on the Kenai River and anyone who was out there the last week can tell you that this day sadly reflected a season, and a fishery, that might be on the cusp of really being “done.” Never in my life have I hoped to be so wrong.

In over two decades of guiding full-time on this incredible river  — a river that prompted me to move here — I have never seen such good fishing conditions, such as low and clean water, yet such poor catching. King numbers overall were down, as was the average size, again.

Bury your head in the sand like a frightened ostrich if you must, but no long-time local, veteran sport angler, experienced guide or honest Fish and Game biologist can deny that our king runs are struggling.
Who’s to blame?

Sport anglers and Kenai River guides are quick to finger-point. It’s always been that way, and likely always will. So lets start at the top: blame me, the typical Kenai guide that has a fancy website, posts hero-shots of giant five-ocean salmon, books as many charters as possible and spends eight to 12 hours a day chasing, catching — and killing — the biggest Kenai kings he can find.

Sure, I try to promote catch and release and even let about 25 percent of my catch go, but day in and day out, my guests and I pound the river with hook and line. Multiply that times 300 plus guides and maybe we better look in the mirror before pointing at “the other guy.”

How about the local private angler, who fishes hard until he lands the two biggest kings he can luck into, killing his annual limit despite having an abundance of Kasilof hatchery kings, reds and silvers to fill his freezer with.

What about the tourist, who doesn’t understand that we are intercepting these genetically unique salmon just prior to them reaching their spawning grounds and passing on their special genes. While on the topic of tourism, the local business owner who capitalizes on big June and July totals yet refuses to take a stance or become active is also guilty.

And how about the fools at last winters Board of Fish meetings who squabbled over whether a half-mile stretch at Eagle Rock should be mandated as drift or back-trolling, all while truly important biological issues like higher escapement goals, July slot limits, a horribly inaccurate sonar counter, and the fallacy of over-escapement went largely ignored.

Shame on you guys, and the Board of Fish, for even allowing such nonsense.

Speaking of politics, our local sport fishing organization, that seems intent on hob-knobbing with big wigs, hosting fancy king tourneys and remaining politically correct is also to blame. Isn’t it time they did a membership drive, educated locals and played hardball with Fish and Game, actually taking the gloves off?

Let’s not forget those nets, the easy target that us guides love to point fingers at. They stretch mile after mile and kill Kenai kings by who-knows-how-many, then simply call them “incidental by-catch” like they don’t matter.

In sum, we are all at fault. But let me tell you who really is to blame — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

They are the entity that is charged with rising above our childish antics and adequately managing our resource to ensure sustainability for the future, not for guides, locals, tourists or commercial fishermen. Their job is supposed to be to see through personal agendas, ignore selfish proposals, avoid politics and manage on biology, making the tough and unpopular decisions that guarantee giant Kenai kings for our kids and grandkids.

Instead, Fish and Game continues to speak out of both sides of their mouth while largely ignoring the cold, hard fact that it is the resource that suffers the most.

This July was a perfect case in point. In mid-month, managers reported that weak returns and inadequate numbers of late-run kings in-river had them “concerned” to the point where they ultimately restricted sport anglers to “no bait” in order to cut harvest and allow more Chinook to reach their spawning beds. In the same breath, Fish and Game claimed that too many reds were entering the river, so they liberalize the commercial fishery with numerous emergency openings, allowing more netting and quite effectively stopping the majority of Kenai kings from even entering the river.

The bottom line: if managers was truly concerned about Kenai king numbers, they needed to restrict all user groups. In simple terms, cut back on anything that prohibits them from doing so. Put the fish first with equal restrictions or complete closures, if necessary. Do whatever it takes. That is your job.

Of course Fish and Game always has an “out” handy. Year after year we hear comebacks like “The management plan says…” So what? Change the management plan, grant an emergency closure, file an injunction if you have to. Do whatever is necessary to protect our resource.

“But the over-escapement of reds…” Bologna. This year’s massive return of reds comes from an over-escapement parent year, blowing Fish and Game’s smoke-and-mirrors theory of over-escapement out of the water. Besides, pink salmon aren’t managed with over-escapement goals or increased netting to limit their numbers, yet we all know they return in extreme excess every other year. Mother nature did a fine job of sustaining all our salmon runs prior to arrogant humans coming along and re-allocating the fish with fallacies like over-escapement.

What’s the answer? Continue complaining amongst ourselves while it slips away? Point fingers at the other guy? Harvest every last king we can get our hook into or our net around? How about we treat the Kenai king like the special fish that it is, elevating it to the trophy status that it deserves.

Let’s try getting active, organized and on the same page with the same goal — more Kenai kings on our spawning beds. Lastly, lets demand change from our Governor, our upper fishery managers and our local biologist-before Kenai kings really are “done.”

Greg Brush is a Soldotna resident who has been a full-time guide on the Kenai River for 22 years.

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jimbob
74
Points
jimbob 08/04/11 - 01:08 pm
0
0
Fair and Square

Mr. Bush has written a fair an square appraisal of what is happening to the King Salmon. Hopefully he will be listened to before we reach a tipping point, if we havent already. I suspect that most of the problem exists on the high seas where foreign interests are stealing the resource. If that is the case no matter how well the Kenai is regulated it will be for naught. It is time to take the money issue out of the fishery on the Kenai and do what is best for the resource. It is a sad spectacle to see the gauntlet of boats that the mighty Kings must avoid to reach their spawning. Why not have catch and release only except for the jacks that seem to be getting more common?

kenai-king
232
Points
kenai-king 08/04/11 - 01:49 pm
0
0
Fish and Game

You blame fish and game and the real culprit here is money and whoever has the most money gets their way. There is way to many guides on this river and to be honest I'll be glad when they have killed the last King and be on there way!

LHART11
75
Points
LHART11 08/04/11 - 05:14 pm
0
0
Lead By Example

Wasn't Brush a ring leader for the guides during the recent no bait protest? Wasn't that protest intended to politically influence Fish and Game management? Kinda hard for Fish and Game to do what they need when they are being pressured by economic powerhouses.

Brush suggested "equal restrictions". Then he fishes the first run when the commercial setnetters are closed, and retains Kings when the dipnetters can't. If he knows Fish and Game isn't going to do it, then why doesn't he restrict himself? Many of the locals were so disgusted they put their rods away forever. More followed. Fish and Game didn't tell them to do that. If Brush can lead a group at a protest, he can certainly lead himself and his guide peers off the River.

KenaiKardinal88
385
Points
KenaiKardinal88 08/04/11 - 06:06 pm
0
0
Kenai Kings Dying

Of course the Kings are dying - in the nets of the commercial fishermen. History as shown time and time again, that commercial fisherman will fish a species to extinction. Read the book about the cod wars - pure greed and stupidity is what commercial fishing is all about.

My buddy at the cannery said he processed over 2 dozen Kenai Kings last shift from the Com Fish guys - multiply that by hundreds.

ADF&G are political hacks - not biologists.

The Com Fish guys own Juneau - you should see the money and time they spend "intercepting" the legislators.

The Kings are dead.

soldotna
50
Points
soldotna 08/04/11 - 09:04 pm
0
0
Blame game

"Of course the Kings are dying - in the nets of the commercial fishermen. History as shown time and time again, that commercial fisherman will fish a species to extinction. Read the book about the cod wars - pure greed and stupidity is what commercial fishing is all about."

If your going to REPEAT things people keep saying you should look at the big picture AKA both King runs. As far as I know there has not been any kind of commercial fishing in may or early June for years. However the first run of Kenai kings is way worse off then the second run. So please explain to me how commercial fishing is killing that run of Kings.

kenai-king
232
Points
kenai-king 08/05/11 - 06:48 am
0
0
Blame Game

I have fished here for 26 years and I have put my rod up until the silver run. And even now the guides are staying later because the King run sucks so now they are working on KILLING the Silver run.

robert white
378
Points
robert white 08/05/11 - 09:36 am
0
0
Kenai kings

Its a simple problem fix, limit king fishing to two days a week, and while you at it limit silver fishing and if its not to late curb back the rainbows. I watch boat load after guide boat boat load heading up river trout fishing every day.. Frank, are you guys so stupid you can't see the problem? 500 guides on the kenai??

northernlights
210
Points
northernlights 08/05/11 - 11:29 am
0
0
well said

I think your letter was very good. People will always lay blame other than themselves. Read the posts they are still blaming. It saddens and angers me to see our river over populated. I have seen it grow over the past 35 yrs from a handful of guides to hundreds. A few people with boats to hundreds. We had commercial fishing 35 yrs ago and the kings were absolutly thick. It is a discrace to see something natural and hearty lost. Slykok had 15 kings return last year. I am sickened to see our whole area being destroyed by the mobs. I honestly wish they would close the river to all kings for the next few years, no one can say they have to have them for food and survival, thats a crock. We are watching a slow painful death of our kings, and we are also watching our riverbanks and beaches being stomped to death by all the city folks who race down here and leave their trash. I am venting, and this is a tuff topic for me, I just despise the horrendeous greed and destruction, I love Soldotna and appreciate our amazing resources.

JOAT
487
Points
JOAT 08/05/11 - 01:18 pm
0
0
Get rid of the guides

Send them back to Washington for good. Just a simple new set of rules is all that's needed... commercial fishing guides on the Kenai will be a limited entry permit system restricted to Alaskan residents. Issue 100 permits. Let the market take care of the distribution. Take away a stiff percentage of their income as a commercial fishing tax that is invested back into the hatchery systems to maintain the salmon populations. You know, like the commercial gillnetters do.

Those pointing at commercial gillnet fishermen haven't a clue. The commercial fishermen exclusively target sockeye. They occasionally get a king, but kings are not worth as much and they are not trying to catch them. Commercial gillnetters have been fishing this way for over 5 decades. Sockeye runs keep growing to off-the-chart record numbers. There are so many sockeye that they added in dipnetting a number of years ago. They have to double the sport limit pretty much every year as there are too many fish.

Guides don't fish for sockeye. They fish for kings. The commercial gillnetters are completely shut down for the first wave of kings. Not a single net in the water. No dipnetters. A few sport fishers, but hundreds upon hundreds of guides, each one taking money hand-over-fist from as many tourists as they can legally pack into their boats. And they are exclusively targeting huge kings. They throw back little kings. They take and kill every big king. They've been doing this for over 3 decades. And now there are still a bunch of little kings, but there are no big kings left. Huh? Wonder how that happened?

Another thing; Catch and Release is proven to kill the majority of kings shortly after they are released. It's the most ludicrous and wasteful method of "recreation" that has ever been conceived by man's pure greed. Should have listened to your mothers, "don't play with your food". C&R should be banned outright.

I say we just shut down all in-river king fishing for the next 5 years. During that time, we should do egg-takes and run hatchery reared smolt to supplement the size of each year's runs. Couple that with some intense habitat restoration and we can return to sport fishable king stocks in about 2017.

Or, we can continue to fish the king to extinction and let the Kenai River join the likes of the Columbia River in a historical context. It's our choice.

Carver
1114
Points
Carver 08/06/11 - 09:01 am
0
0
Question . . .

In answer to Greg's question, no, Kenai kings are not done, but the big Kenai kings might be, and, as I see it, it is the guides and sport-fishery in general who are to blame.

What rancher in his right mind continually, year after year, kills off and harasses the biggest and best of his herd and expects anything but ruination?

Moreover, I believe that the great, unacknowledged villain decimating the big kings is catch-and-release, which, according to ADF&G mortality studies, kills outright one of every 12 kings subjected to c&r. Additionally, God/nature has programmed those fish entering the river to spawn with enough vigor to accomplish that goal. How many times must a big king be caught, played with, and released before its spawning vigor is compromised, before it no longer retains enough vitality to dig a redd and spawn.

The sport-fishery is reaping what it has sowed, and the proof of that fact is the first run of Kenai kings, which is not subjected to gill-nets at all yet it too is being decimated by sport anglers.

kenai-king
232
Points
kenai-king 08/06/11 - 09:18 am
0
0
@ carver

Do not refer to sport fisherman when you are talking about guides, there is allot of difference!

Carver
1114
Points
Carver 08/06/11 - 10:48 am
0
0
Thanks . .

"Do not refer to sport fisherman when you are talking about guides, there is allot of difference!"
*********************

Thanks, kenai-king. My intent was not to disparage sport-fishermen in general, only the sport-fishery as it indulges and encourages catch-and-release.

roserph
2
Points
roserph 08/08/11 - 07:45 am
0
0
Dying King Runs

You can't just point the finger at sport fishing. Commercial by-catch most certainly has an adverse effect, just as catch and release kills fish unnecessarily for the gratification of the sport angler. I no longer fish for kings and encourage others to do the same until this problem is remedied. ADF&G needs to quit bowing to the almighty commercial and guide dollar and enact regulations to ensure a solid future for our treasured resource.

cormit
224
Points
cormit 08/08/11 - 11:14 am
0
0
Kings

I expect Greg is sincere in his concern for the survival of Kenai kings, but , in my opinion, he needs to reconsider a couple of things.

1- Let's stop pretending that over-escapement is a myth; there's too much credible biology to the contrary. Alaska salmon biology recognizes the consequences of putting too many salmon in a system with a limited nutrient source. This is science .... not opinion.

2- How do you accept your share of ownership of the declining king salmon issue .... and then turn around and blame ADF&G? ADF&G is expected to achieve miracles with a Board of Fish mandate with complicated allocative directives that tie F&G's hands from otherwise biological management.

3- It's time to stop referring to east side set-netters king salmon catch as "incidental by-catch". Kenai River king salmon do not belong to the Kenai River guides. The kings belong to all users. Cook Inlet set-netters and drifters have harvested and sold Cook Inlet kings long before river guides ever showed up on the Kenai. Non-guided hook and line fishermen, PU fishermen, and dip-netters are all just as entitled to harvesting king salmon as the guides are.

4- And finally when you suggest elevating Kenai River Kings to "trophy" status ..... as If that were a title of nobility, lets remember a few short years ago when the motto was "the most valuable salmon was the one on the dinner table". When a group tries to suggest that hooking a king salmon and releasing it to be hooked again is somehow more valuable than the main course on the dinner table ... I think you might have found a battle you're going to lose.

akmark50
0
Points
akmark50 08/08/11 - 01:05 pm
0
0
Kings in AK Waters

I have to thank Gregg Brush for stirring up the waters about King Salmon Vitality in the Kenai River. We all should credit the professional fishermen for their expertise on the species. They may not have all the biological answers on what a Chinook Salmon made from, but they certainly know enough about the species to speak with experience. Gregg knows Kings!

On the other hand, Gregg along with the other 300+ guides on the Kenai River must be frustrated that the King fishery is not what it use to be for what ever the reasons. There must be a hundred different reasons, of which a small % is sportfishing, a small % is commercial fishing and a small % to PU fishing. If we get our head out of the small box we are looking in, we might see that King populations are dwendling all over the state of Alaska, especially South Central Alaska and streams and rivers as far North as the Yukon.

Something is happening in the big blue picture that is taking a huge toll on King populations. Question is, what is it and how do we help the situation? Seems there has to be a reason, whether natural or unnatural. In any case, we need to come together in a more productive meaningful way and deal with the issues we can change. Let's start with prayer. I don't mean a simple solution, one time prayer. I would hope that for this region of Alaska, it would become a major petition of prayer to the One who is in control of All things in the Heaven's and on the Earth. A huge lively hood of many other than the guides is at stake here.

Every man woman and child should open their arms to the Creator of the Heaven's and the Earth and admit their fault and then trust the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the Power to Save and change things on the earth and make All things right. That would seem to me to be the right thing to do for a start. Gregg, you are a Christian, maybe you are the right one to lead the task of United prayer on the Kenai? Let's all become a fisher of men on the Kenai Peninsula instead, then things will change accordingly.

drudge
3
Points
drudge 08/08/11 - 04:31 pm
0
0
Widespread issue

The decline of fish stocks is not limited to us here in Alaska.. There was a recent news article (link) concerning the decline of salmon stocks in Western Canada.

This is a $6 million, government-sponsored, 762-page research study that is being buried by the Canadian government. The scientists behind the report have been muzzled from speaking about their findings. Though the report has since been released, it has been massively redacted.

Here's an interesting bit:

In the study, Miller and colleagues conducted a genomic analysis of the fish and found increased expression in a set of genes associated with fighting infection or leukemia. While the researchers do not know the cause of the increased gene expression, they say that one potential source is a virus originating from fish farms.

Indeed, something is causing the decline in fish stocks in the Pacific Northwest. Something that at least one government isn't comfortable discussing with the public.

In response to Mr. Conway's call for prayer: You accomplish less than nothing with prayer. Not only are you doing absolutely nothing to address the issue, you create the false belief that you're somehow helping.

potomac
191
Points
potomac 08/10/11 - 09:53 am
0
0
King fishery

the real balogna here is Greg the commercial guide calling the kettle black. As long as there are too many commercial folks, guides or what ever fighting over these fish they will continue to die out till Greg is struggling with Joe fisherman on the banks past the nets fighting over the last king. Guides are commercial fishermen, same boat, all money oriented , if the drift or set netters have a day off so should the guide fleet same day. Greg should just go back to putting his head in the sand like he has done so many sad years since he showed up, quit complaining you are one of the biggest problems on the river period.

keeneye
10
Points
keeneye 08/10/11 - 03:53 pm
0
0
Kings

This has been brewing for awhile. Everyone involved-businesses especially- need to prepare for a no catch(King) season or two. I find it pretty sad that I had to release a King from my dip net just so some outsider could catch him on rod and reel! It does not bother me to release them(kings) But then the F&G allows the guides to continue to fish(albeit no bait)! Incredible!
I understand that it is a big part of the economic picture here. I've lived here for 40+ years. But as several have stated here, we'll not have to worry about it if nothing is done. Drudge, do not even get me started on those farmed fish!!!!! They should string up everyone of those guys trying to tell us they are "just as good" as natural stock. Phooey! why do they have to inject the fish(farmed) with red dye to color the meat?
It's insane to think that our Kings are not disappearing. It's going to require some belt tightening on all sides.

alaskagunhunter
8
Points
alaskagunhunter 08/10/11 - 04:43 pm
0
0
Goin, goin, vote

An example of this very thing happened in another state. The commercial guys along with others kept taking until people noticed the numbers were way down yet the state did nothing despite the outcry of many, the takers refused to limit themselves. So when the people had enough they started a petition and got it on a ballot and commercial fishing was outlawed in the waters of concern. The state was Florida and the fish being decimated were mullet (has a gizzard) look it up. Anyway the state will do nothing about this until the money makers are loosing and by then it will have collapsed. P.S. the mullet population as well as what preyed on them rebounded in no time.

akmark50
0
Points
akmark50 08/11/11 - 09:22 am
0
0
Solution to Blame Polution

I remember the days when the Kasilof was enhanced with a huge number of Chinook (King) smolt. This had gone on for years and the sportfishing for Kings was awesome, even though the pressure there was tremendous compared to today. We have heard all the blame and shame on you, how about some good solutions where we have a win/win solution? Hatchery Chinook fight and taste as good as wild Chinook. We see that in the Kasilof even today with the small hatchery enhancement going on now. Why not have the state, who ultimately benefits from Sportfishing anyway, increase the number of hatchery Kings on the Kasilof and introduce hatchery Kings to the Kenai River! I know some will balk at the thought, but wait...we are already doing it on other rivers. A friend told me just the other day that the Trinity River in California is experiencing a record run of Chinook that shames the Kenai. He said it's mostly hatchery Chinook. Wake up to 2011 and take a reality pill. The King fishery needs help with all the pressure it has. Give hatchery enhancement a chance on the Kenai. By the way, I heard from a good source that the big Kings in the Kenai River are not native to the Kenai. They came from a hatchery stock from the Columbia River in Washington State called the "Up River Brights" back in the late 60's and early '70's as an experiment, according to some local sportfishing legends. If that's true or not, the solution is still hatchery enhancement for the long haul picture of the success on the Kenai.

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