The following is a tongue-in-cheek letter to our very own Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), although there is really nothing funny about the situation they have put us in. For those of you with an exceedingly dry sense of humor, I've taken the liberty of pointing out my sarcasm.
I want to genuinely thank (sarcasm) ADF&G for the fine state (sarcasm) of our local early run Chinook fisheries.
On the Kasilof River, we now have a mere shadow of the king run of yesterday. What was once the most popular roadside king fishery in the entire state in May and June, today sees only a dozen or so bank anglers a day. There are still a fair amount of drift boat fishermen on days where you can keep "any" king (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) but not for long. Like our smaller rivers south, very few Kasilof early run kings returned this spring and consequently angler's success rates reflect this.
Frankly, slow Kasilof River king fishing should be no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the wise decisions (sarcasm) that ADF&G has made over the past fifteen years or so. Cutting hatchery Chinook numbers from approximately 400,000 to 200k to 100k is in itself devastating to the Kasilof River, as well as our May saltwater troll fishery (which is also a shadow of its former glory) but when ADF&G recently reduced Kasilof River Chinook smolt stocks to 60-80k and then skipped one year all-together, you can't help but scratch your head and say "Thanks, ADF&G!" (Sarcasm).
ADF&G's "smoke and mirrors" management with hatchery and NATURALLY PRODUCED hatchery fish (let me be clear here: there are no WILD early run king salmon on the Kasilof), letting Crooked Creek hatchery fish pass the weir, having only one egg-take as late as mid-July, and then implementing a liberal but almost unattainable two fish per day limit just adds to angler's frustration. Again, thanks, ADF&G! (Sarcasm).
Our world famous big river, where questionable hatchery practices don't come into play, is in even more dire straits, as Kenai River early run Chinook numbers prove poor again this May and June. But that too should be no shock to anyone even remotely up-to-speed on basic king management. Yes, Chinook numbers are currently "down" statewide, but that is not the big problem here: years of not putting enough spawners on the beds is the real culprit. Honestly, how can a Kenai River early run minimum escapement goal of a minuscule 5,300 kings ensure a healthy early run, especially when ADF&G recently admitted that the sonar they have been managing from for decades "may be off by as much as 50 percent?" Don't get caught up in finger pointing at tourists, guides or commercial fisherman and beware ADF&G's complex excuses on why our early run is so weak; common sense should scream that 2,650 kings over a six-week period (May 15-June 30) cannot ensure sustainability, nor can 5,300. Years ago, when the department lowered the ER escapement goal to ensure they reached their management target, they were acting irresponsibly and our resource and community are now paying the price. Thanks ADF&G! (Sarcasm).
What now? Long ago, my parents taught me not to complain unless I was willing to suggest a solution. In this case, I think it is relatively simple. All anglers (local and non-resident) and every business owner (big or small) need to make some noise. Demand accountability and sustainability from ADF&G. Sustainability of our king stocks needs to be priority one and fishery managers need to be held accountable when their policies and actions repeatedly fail.
Every one of us should contact ADF&G's upper managers, our State Representatives and even the Governor. Write the Board of Fish and request an emergency meeting so we don't have to wait years for an adjusted management plan. Demand change, starting with raising the Kenai River early run escapement goal to past levels of at least 9,000 fish. Tell them we need to return Kasilof River early run hatchery stocks to historic numbers. Explain that this is an investment in happy residents, satisfied visitors and a vibrant local economy. But even more important, it is an investment in the future of our fisheries, as our children and their children will surely want to catch a king someday. In a best-case scenario, it's going to take years to recover, but at least it's a step in the right direction. And for that, I will be genuinely thankful.
Greg Brush is a concerned local angler and small business owner.