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Current management plan hurting Kenai River

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: June 21, 2012 - 9:07am

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.

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Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 06/21/12 - 09:40 am
The same can be said of Moose

The same can be said of Moose & bear on the Kenai as well. With one exception and thats that bears have increased while Moose & salmon have decreased due to their their regulatory scams.
It's all about control and $money$ with most people at a lose when the course has run out.
So whats the next scam for increased control or revenue as we see the signs of a sinking global economic ship even on the Kenai which now will sink faster than i thought before with no King fishing?

northernlights 06/21/12 - 10:17 am

3 three years ago 5 kings returned, this year, they counted 2. I am so fricken upset about this. At the meeting there sat biologist explaining the devastating return, and among them sat guides ranting and raving about thier entittlement to all the fish they want. Blaming isnt the answer action is, but when you have to fight against egos and pride, and of coarse greed its a battle. I love our rivers and it just heartbreaking to see these low returns. Yes the fish counter for the past several years was wrong! Nothing like putting your trust in deceit. To take good care of rivers, lakes etc, all it takes is common sense, why are they not using thier brains for this? You wrote a good article and laid it out extreemly well. Its not not late to save our rivers only if we start acting this year to protect them. Most states wait until the fish are depleted and then do something, yeah right, try doing something with nothing. we need leadership who cares, not leadership who cares about wearing a name tag and has a title. We as Alaskans must do something, and this article gives you an idea of where to start. Pick up your pen and write letters please dont just think about doing it, do it.

granny 06/21/12 - 10:14 pm
I think the blame on ADF&G is

I think the blame on ADF&G is misplaced. I'd be willing to bet there was pressure from user groups to lower the escapement goals. And I believe the hatchery thing had more to do with federal policies. Look at all the hoopla right now over the Borough trying to add even a little protection to the streams that feed the Kenai River system. We seemingly will never learn from the mistakes made other places. M Schrag

kenai123 06/28/12 - 02:42 pm
Where Have All The Kings Gone?

The average anglers fishing Cook Inlets rivers and streams today will pack up their gear and head out with high hopes of landing a bunch of giant king salmon.
That angler will then return home with the sobering reality that it is much more difficult to catch a king today than it used to be. If they do the research they will eventually come across the records of how king fishing used to be. The story may take many twists and turns but it comes down to a tale of who got the fish. We had a lot of kings in Alaska waters just after World War 2. During this period there was a low point in both commercial and sport fishing thus allowing our salmon resources to blossom. Once those runs reached great abundance they caught the attention of both local and foreign fisheries. Back then the U.S. had a three-mile territorial limit which allowed foreign fisheries to basically come in and curtain off our nursery rivers and streams with trawlers and gillnets. All the commercial effort basically wiped out our salmon so we stopped our own commercial fishing effort prior to 1976 and ended the foreign fishing rip-off with the Magnuson Steven Fisheries Act of 1976. The Act effectively expanded the three-mile limit into a 200 mile U.S. Economic Zone which greatly reduced foreign commercial fishermen from accessing our returning salmon stocks.
The local and foreign shut-down was very successful and from around 1979 to 1995 we again began to allow our commercial fisheries to start fishing again as we experienced huge returns of king and silver salmon on the Kenai River and Cook Inlet. We did not know it at the time but the removal of the foreign and local commercial fishing fleets resulted in our Cook Inlet salmon actually being allowed to somewhat freely migrate back to their home rivers and streams. We could go out fishing on the Kenai River for kings at this time and see ten to twenty kings swirl to the surface when making a single drifting pass on a hole. It was not unusual to go out king fishing in July and have four to five persons in a boat limited out
within a couple hours and most of that time was spent landing giant kings, which fought for at least twenty to thirty minutes each. The fishing was fantastic, runs came in early, peaked and remained strong until the end of the month or were closed by regulation.
As the commercial gillnets increased in and around Cook Inlet, we began to notice run slippage. At first it was just a slight delay of only a few days, which was quickly made up for later when the main body of the runs arrived. Each year from 1995 - 2005 resulted in these runs arriving a few day later.
By 2002 commercial trawlers, seiners and gillnets had increased so much in and around Cook Inlet that many people began noticing a reduction in the size of giant Kenai kings along with their late arrival. The first reaction was shock as the ADF&G began reading off the record of what was happening to the first run of Kenai kings. The Board of Fish and the public scrambled and arrived at their solution, which was to severely restrict freshwater fisheries in an attempt to make up for the losses. At this time I personally began researching the bycatch figures of Kodiak commercial fisheries guarding the entrances to Cook Inlet, which by the way begin commercial fishing June 5th each year. I was astounded as to the dramatic increase in Kodiak area commercial fisheries bycatch of king salmon. Kodiak commercial seine and gillnet fisheries which had previously reported only a bycatch of a few thousand kings annually in 1980 suddenly soared to a bycatch of 20,000 - 30,000 kings annually by 2002. At the same time the Bering Sea commercial fishermen were bycatching 30,000 - 40,000 kings annually and then those bycatch figures rocketed to 100,000 - 120,000 kings annually. These are kings which are illegal to keep so they are just thrown overboard DEAD. At the same time king bycatch figures within the Gulf of Alaska also began soaring from 20,000 kings annually to 50,000 kings and most of this was kings being dumped over the side DEAD because they were either targeting other stocks or illegal to keep. During this time just twenty commercial boats from King Cove and Sand Point near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula averaged a bycatch of 3.4 king salmon per metric ton of Pollock. These guys estimated that they obtained this bycatch of about 24,878 kings in just twelve days of fishing. 20,000 kings is enough salmon to fuel Cook Inlets entire annual sportfishery and would result in 30 - 40 times more revenue to the state than if those fish had actually been delivered to commercial markets. Unfortunately most of those kings never even made it to any markets because they were dumped over the side DEAD. A smaller amount of commercially gillnetted king bycatch makes it to commercial fisherires markets but the vast majority of Alaska's king bycatch is dumped DEAD. Some may think this waste of fish is so offensive that someone would have noticed these changes, well some of us did notice and we tried to generate the attention the situation deserved but many people would not look at what was right before their eyes. It was not until Gulf of Alaska king bycatch figures began soaring to over 40,000 - 60,000 kings annually, when that happened it caught the attention of Lower 48 fisheries managers. These managers had
endangered king stocks from the Upper Willamette and lower Columbia rivers which are known to swim the waters of the Gulf of Alaska. When they caught wind of these huge king bycatch numbers they also began to ask questions like we have been asking since 2002.
So what has resulted from all of the bycatch questions and revelations?
In 2009 the North Pacific Council finally attempted to do something about the uncontrolled king bycatch spiral, they voted to stop the Pollock fishing when they hit a bycatch of 60,000 kings in the Bering Sea. In 2011 the North Council voted for a 25,000-king cap on the Gulf of Alaska king bycatch. So theoretically if the Pollock fleet in the Gulf of Alaska passes the 25,000-king bycatch limit, the fishery will be shut down. The Gulf of Alaska 2010 fleet killed more than 51,000 king salmon as bycatch, an all-time high. You can use your imagination as to what has been happening out there since.
These are only caps on the commercial king bycatch, they cannot even hope to repair the long term damage which has been done to our king stocks. Even if this king bycatch problem were totally eliminated today it would take a minimum of 10 - 20 years to recover from this kind of wholesale slaughter.
But to answer the question of "Where have all the kings gone?" Commercial bycatch figures on king salmon have gone from next to nothing to monstrous numbers, while the State of Alaska has been assuming that it's a natural statewide lack of abundance of king salmon resulting from excessive freshwater angling. This incorrect assumption fueled extensive freshwater fisheries restrictions and forced those fisheries to give up fish allocations which they could not afford to give up. The vast majority of these missing king salmon were dumped DEAD over the side by the commercial fishing industry and now blissfully drift among the ocean currents. So the answer is really much more simple than you may have been led to believe. Most of these kings have not gone anywhere, most remain where they were caught, killed and dumped DEAD. This is not a complex naturally low abundance of king salmon issue. It is a simple low abundance of wise fisheries managers WHO ARE ABLE to address fisheries bycatch problems at the saltwater source rather than the freshwater symptoms.

kenai123 06/29/12 - 11:00 pm
Why are they killing and dumping our kings?

Why are commercial fishermen throwing away our kings DEAD? Why are we purchasing ADF&G king stamps just to have a commercial fisherman kill our kings and dump them?
Our trawl fisheries, our governor and our ADF&G Commissioner are all screaming to be allowed to continue killing our kings and throw them over board DEAD.
Our ADFG Commissioner and governor are both currently advocating for the historic average of kings caught as bycatch to be dumped DEAD thus allowing this unbelievable king by-catch issue to continue. Isn't it about time for a King Salmon Revolt? Alaskans need to hold their governor and ADF&G Commissioner accountable.
We all need to take a stand against throwing away our Alaska King Salmon Resource. Our governor and commissioner are both advocating for us to continue throwing our kings away DEAD. A 25,000 king-cap bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska is unacceptable. A 60,000 king-cap bycatch in the Bering Sea is unacceptable. Does anyone really believe that we can hope to rebuild our decimated kings runs with these commercial fisheries tearing up our ocean like this? The reason these trawl fisheries are forced to throw kings away, is so that they can't sell them and make a profit. The logic here is that if they were able to keep and sell bycatch,
that would incentivize them to "accidentally" catch a bunch of kings. If these trawl fisheries were required to process those fish and donate them to a food bank or something, the incentive would be opposite. We should do the same as we do with big game guides as they are forced to salvage the meat off the bears or anything else.
If you are going to kill something in the ocean, you have a duty to use it. If you want to use the ocean as your private ranch and sell billions of little fish sticks, that's fine but part of the deal is that someone has to eat what you catch and you cannot waste our common fisheries heritage. You either eat it or someone eats what you catch or we stop you from fishing period. It might be old-fashioned but that is the way it should always be.

Contact Alaska Governor Sean Parnell or Cora Campbell the ADF&G Commissioner at the below information.

Governor Sean Parnell
P.O. Box 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001
Phone (907) 465-3500
Fax (907) 465-3532

Anchorage Office
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1700
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone (907) 269-7450
Fax (907) 269-7461

Fairbanks Office
675 7th Avenue, Suite H5
Fairbanks, AK 99701-4596
Phone (907) 451-2920
Fax (907) 451-2858

Washington DC Office
444 North Capitol NW, Suite 336
Washington, DC 20001-1512
Phone (202) 624-5858
Fax (202) 624-5857


Cora Campbell, ADF&G Commissioner
P.O. Box 115526
Juneau, Alaska 99811
Phone: (907) 465-6166 - Fax: (907) 465-2332

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