What happened to our king salmon?

Many Alaskans have figured out we have a shortage of king salmon in Southcentral Alaska. I have been writing articles for decades warning about the mismanagement of our king salmon stocks. Our valuable king salmon according to a state study are worth about 800-1,000 dollars per sport caught salmon to our economy. We made the king salmon our state fish, and we even sell a king salmon stamp to sport fishermen. Yet, to illustrate how we have treated this valuable fish: imagine using redwood trees for firewood.

Alaska has done a pretty good job in protecting the king salmon's habitat; we have done a terrible job in allowing adequate escapement into their spawning rivers. What was our great error? We have not properly controlled the commercial fisheries that have been allowed to overharvest king salmon as a by-catch in their various fishing operations. Yes, we have governmental agencies designated to protect our fisheries from over exploitation by various user groups. However, human greed is difficult to suppress, especially when special interest groups have access to large amounts of money to influence the fishery managers.

I saw King Salmon Judgement Day coming a few decades ago when the Cook Inlet Central District commercial fishery was allowed to fish continuously for weeks in July. I knew inadequate escapement was occurring on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for king and silver salmon. But ADF&G either had no minimum escapement program for king and silver salmon or used a sonar counter that specialized in false readings. I noticed how the king salmon fry that swarmed around my legs when cleaning a salmon in the Kenai river disappeared in the 1990s.

The current early-run king salmon restrictions found throughout Cook Inlet streams due to low returns cannot be blamed upon the Cook Inlet Central District commercial fishery since they basically harvest late-run Kenai and Kasilof river king salmon. I learned back in the 1990s we were allowing the pollack trawler fishery to sustain huge by-catches of halibut, crab, and king salmon. The multibillion dollar pollack industry was allowed to kill more tons of halibut annually than the sport and commercial fisheries combined -- and they could not legally sell their by-catch! The pollack trawlers have killed millions of king salmon bound for Alaska rivers in the past few decades. Here are some recent pollack trawler by-catch numbers: in 2007 in the Bering Sea they killed 120,000 king salmon (have you noticed the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers' king salmon restrictions); in 2010 the trawler nets took 54,000 king salmon off of Kodiak (they have been harvesting numbers like this for decades). Have you noticed the federal government attempting to reduce bag limits for sport fishermen due to the lack of halibut (the trawler by-catch is the culprit)?

Alaskans who care about our king salmon fisheries and our economy need to contact their political representatives. We must demand adequate escapement for all salmon species; we must not continue to allow special interest user groups from destroying some fisheries for their financial gain.

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