Regulations force fishery managers to 'thread the needle'

In response to Sunday’s article (Clarion, Aug. 21) concerning our local fishery, I too would like to congratulate ADF&G for “threading the needle” through the multitude of ill-concieved regulations placed on them by the board of fish. Biologists now have to give more consideration to regulations rather than science when managing our fishery. Unfortunately, too many Sockeye and not enough Kings passed into the Kenai river this year. This was not the fault of the biologists or the commercial fleet. This was due in part to nature — the Sockeye run was strong and the King run was weak.


It was also due to the fact that during the 7-day peak of the Sockeye run, the east side setnetters had two and a half days of mandatory closure — by regulation. That week represented a fairly small percentage of the total commercial king harvest, and a very large percentage of the commercial sockeye harvest. Different species don’t all run at the same time. Thanks to commercial fish tickets, ADF&G scale crews, and cooperative fisherman, Fish and Game has the ability to open the commercial fleet when sockeye are present, and close it quickly when large numbers of Kings are present. Unfortunately, they do not have the athority to do this. Thanks to the mandatory closures, ADF&G has to fish the commercial fleet nearly as much as possible on the days these closures are not in effect in order to prevent overescapement when there is a strong sockeye run.

This year that was not enough, and hundreds of thousands (millions of local dollars worth) of sockeye that could have been sustainably harvested swam up the already crowded river and died. Without these closures, commercial nets could have caught more Sockeye and less Kings in a shorter time.

The article also stated that east side setnetters caught 6,893 kings. We know this because commercial harvest tickets are mandatory. ADF&G watches them closely, and even sends crews out to measure, weigh, age, and collect samples from these fish mere hours after they are caught. Our commercial fisheries are not only good for our economy, they are a valubale management tool for our biologists.

How many kings were caught in the Anchor Point-Ninilchick sport/charter fishery, or in the Kenai River sport/charter fishery? How many boats were fishing the river on any given day? What was the average age and weight of all fish caught in the Kenai River? No one knows. The number of commercial fishing nets in Cook Inlet has remained static since the limited entry commission was formed 38 years ago. The number of in-river users has exploded. KRSA’s homepage says “the Kenai River is recognized as one of the best-managed waterways in the world.” Ha! The management of the Kenai River is a joke. The only reason more local residents aren’t outraged with what has happed to our river is because most local residents don’t fish the river any longer. Anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about should make it a point to drink their moring coffee at Eagle Rock next King season.

If the KRSA and the KRPGA are so worried about the King escapements, why aren’t they concerned about the number of boats on the river, or the number of fish that are hooked and played to exhaustion, only to be released? What about the decreasing size of the Kings — no doubt a product of many years of catching and keeping the trophy fish? Many King salmon spawn in-river, right where all this madness is taking place. Stress affects an animal’s ability to successfully procreate.

Unfortunately, KRSA feels that more regulations on ADF&G’s ability to manage the commercial fleet will solve the escapement problem. Shame on them. I am a lifelong Kenai resident. My family has commercial fished in Cook Inlet for 48 years. I am also an avid sport fisherman, and I work at a local business. I realize how important all of the fish user groups are to our economy and our way of life. I want them all to thrive.

Shame on us for letting this happen to our fishery. Shame on our local media for not caring about the truth. Shame on me for not getting involved sooner.


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