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Fishery decisions must be made for ecosystem's benefit

Posted: November 6, 2012 - 2:24pm  |  Updated: November 7, 2012 - 9:30am

The “Kenai River Classic” and the guiding sector have decimated the early Kenai River king salmon run. The “Kenai Classic” has been used to push the guides’ economic agenda to the detriment of the Kenai River kings, recreational users, local populous and ecosystem of our local river. The “Kenai Classic” targets the early run kings that enter the Kenai River during May and June. However, these early kings do not spawn until sometime in July. As a result, these kings are caught and released several times, or are overharvested at an unacceptable high rate that is not sustainable. Our early run Kenai kings have not met the escapement goal for several years and could be declared a “Stock of Conservation Concern.” The “Kenai Classic” has been a questionable success at a devastating cost to our local area people, Kenai kings and the Kenai River ecosystem. It is ironic that with the high percentage of Alaskan users, we sacrifice our local kings in order to have the “Kenai Classic” so the guiding sector can pander to politicians and government bureaucrats. How many out-of-state guides have an influence in the decisions being made about our Kenai River system and our Kenai River kings?

For several years, the Mat-Su Valley has had at least one person on the Board of Fish. Why is this? The stacking of the Board for the guide industry has insulated them from any scrutiny as to why our early and late-run king salmon have disappeared. Recently, a guide industry spokesman blamed the weather along with some other “fishermen” somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean for the problem. It’s interesting that the spokesperson had plenty of blame for everyone else, but never once mentioned their role in the disappearance of our kings. Amazingly, there was not one in-river problem mentioned. However, lots of other industries seemed to be causing problems for the kings: logging, mining, commercial fishing or the oil industry, but not the commercial guide industry. The guides and “Kenai Classic” participants use gasoline engines and they lose lead sinkers, plastic lures and plastic lines into the ecosystem as several hundred boats per day churn up the pathway to the kings’ spawning grounds. Don’t forget catch-and-release and slot limits. Has anyone even thought about the fishermen and women with raingear, boots and waders from all over the world that may carry an invasive species? Our late, great Senator Ted Stevens helped to create a fish conservation plan called the Magnuson-Stevens Act which was passed by Congress to protect and sustain our nation’s fisheries for current and future generations. However, we are following the path of the Pacific Northwest salmon fisheries and unless we make a few adjustments, this could be the end of our Kenai kings, local commercial fishermen and local sport fishermen. My hope is the decisions are based more for the good of the river ecosystems. The tourism industry is good for the State of Alaska, but to the detriment of our ecological jewels.

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kenai123
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kenai123 11/18/12 - 12:45 pm
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kenai123
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kenai123 11/18/12 - 12:43 pm
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Governor's Upper Cook Inlet King Salmon Task Force Meeting

I just came back from attending the Governor's Upper Cook Inlet King Salmon Task Force Meeting at the Kenai Peninsula College on Nov. 16th, 2012, here in Soldotna. The main thing which I come away with from this meeting is the hollow feeling that most of these Task Force Members do not possess the general knowledge background as to what is truly driving our statewide king salmon return problems. The reason I make this claim is because of a single question raised by this Task Force. That question was given as follows. "Doe's anyone on this Task Force know why our second run of kings on the Kenai River had a delayed entry pattern this year?" The entire room went dead silent and not a single person even offered a response to this giant question; the group then moved onto other issues.

I first notice a delayed entry pattern for our July kings on the Kenai River back in 1990. This delayed entry back then was a delay from a normal and dramatic arrival of second run kings around July 1 each and every year. By 1991 that arrival timing delayed until around July 3th in 1992, July 8th in 1995, July 12th in 1997, July 16th in 1995, July 18th in 2000, July 20th in 2003, July 25th in 2006, July 27th in 2009, July 29th in 2011 and Aug. 5th in 2012. No member of the Governor's Task Force either knew this information or could recall it, so the room was filled with only silence.

Since 1990 I have observed a general delay in many of our July, second king runs in Cook Inlet's rivers and streams. I have observed a general and progressivly increasing delay in these runs. I have raised this delayed entry pattern issue many times with the Alaska Board of Fisheries from 1990 to present day. Each time my question and suggested remedies where listened to but no action was take as the Board went about its main and plain duty of dividing up "alleged surplus fisheries resource" among the many competing user groups. At each meeting I suggested that non-accuracy data received from malfunctioning Kenai River sonar sites from 1990 - 2011 resulted in the general mis-management or "over fishing" of Cook Inlet's commercial gill net fisheries. By mis-management I mean "excessive commercial gillnet sockeye harvest" in Cook Inlet for decades; that excessive fishing has resulted in excessive king salmon by-catch. Most of this excess commercial fishing was 24 hours per day, seven days per week, gill netting in Cook Inlet. This over fishing basically broke the back of our July, Cook Inlet king runs. Northern fisheries users became so upset at this excess commercial fishing that they asked for and received a concept known as "Window's" which was implemented
to allow brief openings for fish to swim up to the northern districts of Cook Inlet. This change helped but could not even hope to repair the long-term damage to our king runs.
Plus we had ocean commercial users to the south of Cook Inlet which would soon ramp up their fishing efforts to make "Window's" meaningless.

From 2000 to 2003 most people only viewed our king salmon loss within the missing kings within the Kenai River's first run of kings. This run of kings had also become depleted but not because of July commercial fishing in Cook Inlet. This run of kings is being impacted by other commercial fisheries to the south near and around Kodiak Island, which normally begin fishing in the first week of June. In 2001 most Kenai River fisheries users did not even know these commercial fisheries were increasing their fishing efforts and therefore impacting Cook Inlet salmon in June from the entrance to Cook Inlet. Substantial Cook Inlet sportfish king salmon fishing restrictions were created to try to make up for increasing commercial interception at the entrance to Cook Inlet. These sportfish restrictions basically had no effect because it was just to little, to late. Then these same sportfish users began hearing about other saltwater users
in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, which were also having an increasing and dramatic impact on the ability of king salmon to migrate back to their nursery rivers
and streams statewide. We now understand that this commercial trawler fishery is harvesting about 100,000,000 tons of Pollock each year and that about four kings
are accidentally killed and dumped back into the ocean for each ton of this Pollock harvest. This is a potential destruction of about 4,000,000 king salmon each year.
Our North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has place max. caps on this commercial king by-catch of 25,000 kings in the Gulf of Alaska and 60,000 kings in the Bering Sea.
We are calculating a potential 4,000,000 king salmon by-catch loss here each year but the max. cap. was set at 85,000 kings. To top it off, for some reason these
commercial fisheries never seem to reach this 85,000 king cap. figure which could shut-down them down.

We have a three fold negative king salmon effect happening here.
1.] One within our own local commercial gillnet sockeye fisheries in Cook Inlet as it is over fishing thus negatively impacting and by-catching our kings.
2.] One within our Kodiak Island commercial fisheries as they over fish and negatively impact and by-catch our kings.
3.] One within our commercial Pollock trawler fisheries as they over fish and negatively impact and by-catch our kings.

This three fold "negative king by-catch effect" is resulting in a single negative force to suppress king salmon production both locally and statewide. This has all happen right under our noses and when a member of our King Salmon Task Forces asks why we currently have a delayed king entry pattern in July and nobody even has a guess as to the cause of that change, what chance do we really have of these Task Force members understanding the rest of this very complex issue?
I see few of these Task Force Members possessing the necessary knowledge background to resolve this very complex king salmon loss issue. I can only hope that some how these Task Force members will be educated by our ADF&G regarding this very important king salmon loss issue.

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