Voices of the Peninsula: King salmon fishery should open with conservation measures

In the last few days, I’ve heard a lot of noise about commercial fisherman getting all the dipnetters fish. And of course, as usual, the sport anglers are pointing the finger too! Really?

 

Who gets the fish ... age old question. I guess some things never change!

It’s sad, because all this rant sounds a lot like “Me, me, me!” to me!

It’s all allocative, which I understand, but what gets lost in all this, with sport vs. personal-use vs. setnets vs. driftnets vs. private angler vs. guide vs. resident angler vs. non-resident angler, etc., is the mighty Kenai king, a critter that currently is a lot like a unicorn.

They just are not there, not in any sustainable numbers anyway. Quite frankly, they are on the verge of being gone forever. Seriously folks, what about conservation, as in sustainable fisheries? But, “they” are killing them at such a high rate — but it’s not just “them” in this case, it’s us.

Standard openings, as if nothing is wrong, then emergency openings, and then cries for extra time, and then, “What about the personal-use fishermen?” followed by gluttonous river guides and private anglers, and meanwhile, in-river sport anglers are allowed to catch and keep any Kenai king they happen to get, should a minor miracle occur and they actually get one.

I’ve guided full-time here for 25 years and know a thing or two about king fishing, yet this year my guests and I have caught and released only 6 Kenai kings, from 3-25 pounds, no less. Yes, I said three pounds! And yes, 25 pounds is our largest so far this year. Where are the world famous giant kings of the Kenai? Virtually gone! So sad that it makes me physically ill.

Question: Why isn’t this late run Kenai king fishery total “catch-and-release” from the get-go? Why don’t our managers start sport fishing for kings with next to zero mortality on the front side of the run, until we know we will make our escapement goal, at which time they can implement a ‘step up plan’ and liberalize restrictions to where they can then allow some harvest of what would be an actual harvestable surplus? By the third or fourth week of July, when we see that the late run of Kenai kings is ultra-weak, it is impossible to go back and “un-harvest” fish that we’ve already killed.

This common sense, non-allocative, conservation-based idea was proposed in writing to the Board of Fish this past winter, by Yours Truly. But of course, given your Board’s makeup and the fact that the process is totally broken, it was defeated. Sad.

And so, ADF&G is setting us up for the same scenario as in other years: allow sport king anglers to harvest early as if we have a healthy, sustainable fishery, as if there isn’t a problem, so that commercial fisherman can fish, then suddenly declare that we might not make king escapement, and the department goes from full harvest to total closure, rather than a more conservative and reasonable approach to allow some opportunity but minimize harvest by going to catch-and-release.

Before anyone says that in the last week in July, the run shaped up so dire that killing even one king through catch-and-release mortality would be wrong, need I remind you, sport anglers already had harvested kings for over three weeks prior? And netters did their share of damage too. And before someone spews misinformation about the evils of catch-and-release, don’t forget, ADF&G’s very own catch-and-release study cites Kenai king mortality at 5-8 percent, and this was done with multiple hooks and bait. With today’s single hook, no bait, illegal-to-remove-from-the-water restrictions, it is clearly much lower than that.

I can honestly say, that not one Kenai king that my guided anglers have caught since 2012, when I voluntarily opted to go to total catch-and-release for all Kenai kings, has died. Proper catch-and-release, done by knowledgeable and caring conservationists, is that effective.

But catch-and-release isn’t the end-all/fix-all; rather, it’s just another tool, one to at least be considered as a way to minimize mortality but still allow opportunity. It’s a viable option. Sadly, sometimes a fishery just needs to be closed. But only if it is for everyone.

Before anyone attacks me as being self-serving, me, my family, and my small business are fully prepared and willing to support a full closure, if and when it actually achieves something. It’s got to save some fish to be worth the hardship, otherwise it is simple “feel-good” politics that achieve nothing.

In order for me and other knowledgeable sport anglers to buy into a full closure, it has to be coupled with paired restrictions for all users. You can’t close a sport fishery totally and then continue commercial fishing. Nor can you close the early run of Kenai kings to sport fishing and then do little or nothing about the harvest of the same salmon in the open ocean.

It is apparent that ADF&G is again throwing conservation of one species aside, in favor of harvest of another which simply translates to the Department, and our politicians, putting allocation, money and votes as priority one. So very sad.

So please, if you simply must point your finger at someone, point it at ADF&G. And when crying for more fish for “me,” don’t forget to put conservation of the resource first, before your own personal needs. Our kids deserve it!

Greg Brush is a concerned local angler and small business owner.

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