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Op-ed: Fish and Game science not helping kings

Posted: June 24, 2013 - 12:36pm

In response to the Voices of the Peninsula column by Alaska Depaertment of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell (Clarion, June 12), I would disagree that the department is using “sound fisheries science” with respect to the Kenai River Chinook Salmon stocks. While I certainly understand the technological hurdles that need to be overcome in order to make this all work I do not accept the soft sell we are getting on the failures of the Split Beam Sonar which your department has vigorously defended for the last 26 years. We now find that these split beam sonar numbers are not being used because they are meaningless (garbage). But you used the same five indices which once “correlated” with these meaningless split-beam sonar counts and some of the mark/recapture numbers used to defend the split beam sonar in the Run Reconstruction to generate all the “new” data which isn’t meaningless? I find that somewhat troubling, we did not use DIDSON sonar counts and see a correlation we used the five indices to create DIDSON numbers and induced a correlation which may not be reality, certainly wasn’t in 2012. And to refresh your memory the same journal publications and peer review process was used to defend the split beam sonar and the echo length standard deviation estimates which both have been found to not work.

Had ADF&G actually transitioned to DIDSON in 2011 as you state, the management fiasco your department created in 2012 would not have occurred. If you remember you were using 5 indices not the DIDSON to manage the fisheries in 2012. We all remember how that worked out. Your department caused an economic disaster needlessly as the final count of 29,000 was enough for all sectors of the fisheries to have fished without restrictions and still make the lower end of the escapement goal. The problem was you were not ready to manage the fishery with DIDSON or any other technology. You were unaware that you were not counting 55 percent of the early run or 30 percent of the late run. In fact the counts were over 1,000 kings a day for several days in a row when you pulled the counter so there is no way of knowing what the final count really was.

Both of the latest “Run Reconstructions” done by Mr. Fleischman have numerous shortcomings which put the Kenai king runs and the fisheries dependant on them in jeopardy. While Mr. Fleischman appears to be a mathematical wizard his understanding of the basic biological functions and the shortcomings of many of the assessment programs utilized to create, not only the new escapement goals, but also used to create the data these goals were derived from is lacking at best. There is more to sound fishery science than developing an escapement goal, it has to be biologically adequate, scientifically defensible and fisheries managed to be within the escapement goal range. ADF&G is failing on all fronts in the Kenai king fishery.

In order for the DIDSON to work the department not only has to be able to count fish over 30 inches (750mm) they have to know what fraction of the run is over 30 inches so they can calculate the total run. Fatal flaw number one, the netting program is not an unbiased estimate of the total run. If you look at Table 1 of the Late-Run Reconstruction you see that the commercial and in-river estimates are not in agreement at all, with the ESSN fishery harvest of age 3 and age 4 fish often being 2-5 times as much as the in-river estimate. Which estimate is correct in anybody’s guess but with the number of samples in the ESSN fishery being 5-10 times as many as the in-river netting program it is likely more robust and closer to reality.

Fatal flaw number two is not using the in-river genetics which shows the number of early-run fish escaping prior to July 1st is 1,100 to 3,000 fish lower than what the department is currently using. On page 71 of the Early-Run Reconstruction ADF&G lists the percentage of fish prior to July 1 which are late-run or main-stem spawners. Starting on June 15 approximately 20 percent of the DIDSON counts are actually late run-fish. By June 20 it is 50 percent and by June 25, eighty percent are already late-run fish, unfortunately the same is not true of early-run fish after July 1st, there are none in the escapement. The same report estimated that 50 percent of the middle river harvest after July 1st is actually early-run fish which are incorrectly subtracted from the late-run escapement.

All of this means that the early run is being shorted in escapement by as much as 30-40 percent. There are many other deficiencies that are omitted or just glossed over in these reports without any explanations. How is it that in the early-run escapement is DIDSON count plus 55 percent by the late-run is DIDSON plus 30 percent, are fish after July 1 just better behaved? Why does the department’s escapement goal not what is directed in regulation 5AAC 39.222 and 223? In your report you call it a safety factor but if your analysis is correct it lowers yield and puts fisheries in jeopardy. Illegally to supposedly make the in-fiver fishery more successful which is way outside the government’s authority.

One final point before everyone is too bored to continue; from 2001 to 2007 in the early-run and from 2000 through 2008 in the late-run you went over the upper escapement goal year after year for 7 and 9 years straight. Should we really expect robust kings returns after that poor performance? Speaking of performance you state that the DIDSON has been employed since 2007 and completely transitioned by 2011, could we see a report before we go to the next generation of AERIES of PICIES? In fact isn’t it about time to catch up on all the reports which are 5-6 years late before we go spending $10 million dollars on projects we won’t get a report or data from for another 5 years?

Doug Blossom Sr. is a longtime Cook Inlet commercial setnet fisherman.

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