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Regulations force fishery managers to 'thread the needle'

Posted: August 25, 2011 - 8:58am

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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northernlights 08/25/11 - 11:50 am
Kenai river

Great article, your right and for some reason they want to cover that up with a bandaid or more so completely ignore the boat problem. I to have lived her for over 35 yrs, used to fish the river all the time, its now been 4 yrs since I have fished it. Why, because of all the damm river guides crowing every spot and good fishing hole. The action on their part is they belive the are entitled to it more than anyone else. I wish there was a law in place that out of staters cannot be a guide. That would elminate 75% of the boat crowding. I get so angry when I see the hoards and what is even worse, there are many guides still fishing and making money on they days they are not suppose to fish, hiding behind a new hat, and running a different boat. there are theives, that is stealing, and yet I see them and know them by name. Also I wish would become a law, is if your going to fish you should HAVE to hold your fishing pole. they all sit there like bumps on a log, hook a fish and its the guide who manuvers the boat to set the hooks. They dont let thier clients hold their poles or set their hooks because they lose half the fish. Out law it, if your going to fish then hold your pole.

Salmon_fisher57 08/26/11 - 08:33 am
I fished the Kenai in 2005.

I fished the Kenai in 2005. My first impression of the Kenai was: where’s the fish? My guide was very knowledgeable and new all the holes, however, the kings I was chasing were not there. This was in June, so it was the early run. My guide coughed out the excuses that the early run is not as strong as the later run. He also complained about set netters and over fishing ect. We ran up and down the river, checking the fish counter, looking at the netters and talking to the Fish and Game. There was an unspoken undercurrent that some outside force was controlling how many fish were in the river. At the time I was ignorant about the way the Kenai river system is managed, and his complaints were largely wasted on me. We did manage to connect with one large king, and get it to the boat. However it was within the slot limit for release, and he cut it loose. After the fishing trip, I stopped by an Indian store and bought a frozen king to take home. It was about the same size as the one the guide let go. This made me wonder what was going on. After years of study, I would have to say the Kenai is one the most mismanaged rivers ever. There are at least 3 or 4 standard of administration, and on any given day it can change. This river produces a unique species of giant Chinook salmon, and should be managed as such. I support limiting out of state guides. I also support severely limiting the netters at the mouth of the river during the king run. I was a victim of the “don’t handle your rod” mentality, the guide bumped the motor when the fish hit, setting the hook. This practice should be eliminated. I love Alaska, and only want what could be. This is just my experience, and opinion. Thank you.

spybot 08/26/11 - 10:09 am
Know what you are talking about

This year the east side set nets caught more kings in July than the in-river sport fishery.

The concept that ADF&G has the ability and actually would open and close the set nets based on the harvest of a large number of kings is a joke - when has that ever happened?
Never. That directive is not in any management plan.

The only directive is to meet minimum escapement goals and if the Kenai River king fishing is closed to the in-river fishery, then the east side set net fishery is closed.

The only method available to reduce the harvest of kings in the commercial fisheries is to fish the drift fleet more and the set net fleet less - which ADF&G did this summer.

When the final in-river harvest of sockeye above the sonar counter is subtracted from the in-river escapement of sockeye, it will most likely fall within the Optimal Escapement Goal for Kenai River sockeye - so if ADF&G kept sockeye escapements within the goals that they are managing for sockeyes - where is the problem?

Is it really true that after a harvest of FIVE million sockeye this summer, commercial fishermen are STILL complaining about not having enough fish to harvest???

King salmon returns around the whole state are showing poor returns, with early age class, lower weight, smaller size, from the Yukon, Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet, PWS and Southeast Alaska, not just the Kenai River.

Of course the most common explanation is that there is a regime of lower ocean productivity on a cyclic pattern - about twenty years between highs and lows, and we are seeing statewide the effects of being in the low part of that cycle.

The uncommon explanations would also throw in high numbers of king salmon by-catch in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock trawl fisheries, and the as yet unknown impacts of pouring billions of juvenile salmon from the hatchery factories into the ocean. Hatchery fish are eating from the same resources as are the wild stock salmon.

In the 1980's almost 100% of salmon harvested in commercial fisheries were of wild stock origin - now that number has decreased to around 50%. Of course no one knows, or wants to know, the impact of hatchery fish on wild stocks - even though, or because of, it now accounts for almost half of all salmon harvested in Alaska.

ADF&G and NOAA have almost no information on the impacts to the ocean ecosystem through doubling the number of juvenile salmon from hatcheries. But as long as the call for more hatchery salmon continues from the commercial salmon interests without any significant oversight or scientific study, then the aquaculture associations will continue to pump out more and more hatchery fish to sell under the guise of "wild Alaska salmon".

But hey, let's throw stones at KRSA, KRPGA and anglers in general because of course they are the real culprits. The gall of anglers to insist that ever last fish does not belong to commercial fishing interests must be galling.

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