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In response to Greg Brush's column "Are our Kenai kings done"

Posted: August 10, 2011 - 10:39am

I expect Greg is sincere in his concern for the survival of Kenai kings, but, in my opinion, he needs to reconsider a couple of things.

1-  Let's stop pretending that over-escapement is a myth; there's too much credible biology to the contrary. Alaska salmon biology recognizes the consequences of putting too many salmon in a system with a limited nutrient source. This is science...not opinion.

2- How do you accept your share of ownership of the declining king salmon issue...and then turn around and blame ADF&G? ADF&G is expected to achieve miracles with a Board of Fish mandate with complicated allocative directives that tie F&G's hands from otherwise biological management.

3- It's time to stop referring to east side set-netters king salmon catch as "incidental by-catch". Kenai River king salmon do not belong to the Kenai River guides. The kings belong to all users. Cook Inlet set-netters and drifters have harvested and sold Cook Inlet kings long before river guides showed up on the Kenai. Non-guided hook and line fishermen, PU fishermen, and dip-netters are all just as entitled to harvesting king salmon as the guides are.

4- And finally when you suggest elevating Kenai River Kings to "trophy" status ... as if that were a title of nobility, let's remember a few short years ago when the motto was "the most valuable salmon was the one on the dinner table." When a group tries to suggest that hooking a king salmon and releasing it to be hooked again is somehow more valuable than the main course on the dinner table... I think you might have found a battle you're going to lose.

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northernlights 08/11/11 - 10:19 am
spybot 08/11/11 - 12:32 pm
Over escapement on the Kenai is a myth

The "over escapement" theory on the Kenai is a myth - no Kenai River sockeye return at any level has ever failed to replace itself - that is a fact.

There were three large escapements in 2004, 2005 and 2006, in Didson units around 2 million sockeyes on three successive years, which is about 30% above the upper end of the escapement goal. This according to the brood year interaction or "over escapement" theory was supposed to crash the system - 2011 was supposed to be the year that the fears of over escapement came true - it was supposed to be a busted return for sockeye.

Guess what - the sockeye return both last year and this year were way above what was anticipated from the over escapement model - and this year's return will turn out as among the top Kenai returns ever.

Over escapement is a documented reality on some river systems - the Wood River in Bristol Bay has a sockeye goal range of 700,000 to 1,500,000 and they had escapements well over three million, where many of the females did not even release their eggs. In Russia there are documented case of river systems having way more fish than available spawning habiltat - so much so that returning spawners suffocate from a lack of oxygen in the river system. These are cases of over escapement.

The Kenai to date is not one of these cases. Over escapement is a myth on the Kenai that has morphed into a pseudo-scientific justification to exploit the Kasilof and Kenai sockeye stocks as hard as possible without concern on all the other salmon stocks in Cook Inlet.

For years over escapement was also said to be a big concern on the Kasilof River. Guess what - this year ADFG RAISED the escapement range for Kasilof sockeye from 150,000 -250,000 to a new expanded range of 160,000 - 340,000, about doubling it. This doubling of the Kasilof escapement range is due to the fact that large escapements into the Kasilof over the past decade had healthy, sustainable returns.

With the returns from the large escapements from 2004, 2005, 2006 years, one might expect a similar expansion of the escapement range for Kenai River sockeye in the future.

It is not responsible management to allow fears of "over escapement" of sockeyes in the Kenai River to trump the real conservation concerns for achieving minimum escapements for Kenai kings.

Most all fishery scientists understand and accept that there are long term biological consequences to not achieving minimum escapement goals for salmon - especially kings.

Few fishery scientists accept that there are long term biological consequences to going over the upper end of the escapement goal for sockeyes on the Kenai - the record to date just does not support that hypothesis, no matter how deeply held it is as a primary talking point by those in the local commercial fishing community.

cormit 08/11/11 - 04:29 pm
over escapement

Optimum escapement goals in sockeye salmon management weren't developed to prevent the extinction of sockeye salmon. The idea was to even out the high and low returns naturally occurring in a unmanaged fishery. Mid-winter water samples taken from Kenai Lake after huge escapement years showed that organisms, including favored egg sack bearing copepods adapted to excessive feeding pressure by descending to depths beyond reach of young salmon. The results were underdeveloped fry that failed to grow to critical weight and size to assure better ocean survival. You can call this "over-escapement theory" If you like, but It's probably just plain old science. There is probably a pretty good scientific argument that could be made that a low escapement year offers some relief to a nutrient depleted system.

Bob Correia

witchwitch 08/11/11 - 02:31 pm
Over escapement damages our resource

Over escapement is a FACT. There is a limit to how many salmon fry that the river can sustain and salmon runs can crash when fry leave the river malnourished, resulting in fry too small and weak to survive to return.

If more salmon in equal more salmon out, then runs should have been HUGE following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. They facts demonstrate that the returns following that management failure were a bust. Look at the returns for 1993 and 1994.

The same greed for salmon that supports no limit for escapement supports taking all you can now without regard for the future. This is exactly why the king runs are becoming decimated. There are no simple answers but the answer is not to just put more sockeye salmon in the river systems.

We have too few kings in the river and too many reds. Science supports limiting spawning number once the optimal goal is achieved. Putting too many reds in the river will destroy the opportunity that all the user groups have enjoyed this year.

spybot 08/15/11 - 11:24 am
Range will expand

Turbidity - i.e. affecting the depth of light levels in Kenai and Skilak lakes, probably has as much or more to do with the available nutrients in these lake systems as does the abundance of juvenile salmon.

The brood year interaction model doesn't take into effect the variables of ocean productivity or different light depths from year to year in the fresh water lakes, nor other environmental factors - hence it fails to account for upwards 80% of the variability in run returns from year to year.

It may be a factor, but not THE factor in run returns. And with the strong returns from the higher escapements in 2004, 2005 and 2006, the SEG for late-run Kenai River sockeye may expand slightly on the upper end - the problem is that there isn't enough information on higher escapements for the Kenai system.

Maybe that is why the senior research scientists within the department have basically canned the idea of over escapement on the Kenai being a major management concern - numerous department reports bear this out.

And that is basic science.

KenaiKardinal88 08/17/11 - 03:58 pm
Myth vs. Science

Bob's lack of credibility ruined everything else he wrote about.

Overescapement is a myth, not science.

I assume Bob is or was a commercial fisher based on his rant.

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