Voices of the Peninsula: All fisheries are important to community

“Why do we have to fight so hard to be able to fish?” — a question we keep getting from our children, many of whom are 4th and 5th generation commercial fisherman and setnetters in Upper Cook Inlet. The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance’s recent statewide initiative targeting Cook Inlet Setnetters is indeed a very difficult thing to try to understand, let alone explain to our children, friends, and neighbors.

 

Here is the question that we keep coming back to: Why is feeding the world an abundant, natural and healthy protein — Wild Salmon — any less important than the recreational fishing that takes place in our rivers? It’s not. Both fisheries have a social and economic value, and a unique place in this wonderful State of Alaska. Both are vitally important to the economy and the culture of the coastal communities that host and depend on them.

We refuse to stoop to the level of greed that Bob Penney and his myriad of “Sportfishing Organizations” and “Conservation Alliances” are exhibiting. Our children, our community, our neighbors, and our families deserve better than this. So how do we fix these “fish wars” that have been waged for years? We rise above it! We stand up and say ALL fisheries are an important part of this state, and will exist for many generations to come. We come TOGETHER for solutions to protect our diverse fishery and the resource it depends on.

The Kenai Peninsula holds the most accessible river systems in the State of Alaska. We have a large and growing number of people coming to play in our rivers, a very sensitive and limited resource. Each user group needs sensible limits — responsible management cannot allow unbridled growth on a limited resource. We must limit the number of boats we allow over the spawning grounds, we must put some limits on the ever growing dipnet fishery, and we must have limits and guidelines as to the amount of commercial activity we allow — in both the salt and fresh waters.

ADF&G has set escapement goals that are predicted to produce the highest sustained yields for each species, which benefits ALL Alaskans and fish user groups. In the past 27 years this goal has been met and more often than not exceeded for late run Kenai chinook, the strongest of the Kenai’s two chinook runs and the only Kenai chinook run harvested by Cook Inlet Setnets.

Achieving these escapement goals has not been without difficulty and sacrifice. The last several seasons have been full of restrictions for all user groups in order to achieve escapement. The escapement itself has come into question, with user groups enduring restrictions only to see escapement numbers adjusted upwards post-season by ADF&G after all the data was analyzed. Interestingly, the most historic, dependable, and accurate Kenai chinook data we have is that of the Cook Inlet Setnet fishery. It shows a low (13 percent) setnet harvest of this run. This rate has remained relatively constant throughout the decades despite changes in run strength, political pressure, and market value of this great fish.

The difficulty of enumerating a minority species in a river full of other fish cannot be understated. Multiple postseason adjustments, recent escapement goal changes, and evidence of density dependent impacts due to past errors in counting have many of us thinking maybe it’s time for ADF&G to spend some of the $30 million Governor Parnell issued for chinook research to fund an independent outside review of the counting systems for the Kenai River.

Alaskan chinook are experiencing a period of low productivity — that’s certainly true here on the Kenai. We don’t know exactly why, but we do know (due to commercial catch records) that it has happened before, and could be largely a natural, cyclical phenomenon. But maybe we should look at the habitat of these chinook salmon. How are they reproducing, what is the number and condition of the juvenile salmon, or smolt, coming from the Kenai River? How is freshwater survivability? What effects have years of increasing pressure had on the riparian habitat of these fish? These are all areas that are not being funded or studied on the most popular river in Alaska despite the millions of dollars Alaska is spending on chinook salmon research.

To all the Alaska Legislators and Board of Fish members — we ask that you take the approach that all fisheries are important to the people, communities, culture, and economy of this State and that you will fight for them all in an honorable way. Politics and money are ruining this wonderful, diverse fishery and with it many fisherman’s lives. We are fathers, we are grandmothers, we are children, sons and daughters, and we are families. We are a community filled with generations of fishing families that will continue to fight for this way of life because we believe that feeding the world a natural and healthy protein — Wild Salmon — is worth it.

Submitted by Amber Every on behalf of Fair Fishing 907.

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