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Setnet closure doesn't address king salmon problems

Posted: July 20, 2012 - 9:00am

The so called attempt to save the Kenai River king salmon on the backs of the eastside setnetters is the biggest boondoggle I've ever witnessed in my lifetime by the so called experts employed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I was born here in Alaska in 1949, have spent almost all of my 63 years on the Kenai Peninsula involved in commercial fishing at some level from a very young age from drifting the Inlet with my Dad to running my own setnet site at Humpy Point, beginning in the 1950s through the present.

The kings were fished commercially at one time and always came back in good numbers, even when the fish traps were in operation up until they were outlawed in 1959. The kings always came back in good numbers, all the years eastside setnetters fished the kings always came back.

So what has changed? How about the large number of kings caught as bycatch on the high seas, how about the overfishing, ruining of fish habitat rearing areas by the Kenai River guides. The Kenai River Guides are not sport fishermen like they would like you to believe,they are commercial fishermen using a different style of gear, except they don't have to catch fish to get paid. They sell you a seat on their boat and a chance to catch a fish. Commercial setnetters do not get paid if they have no fish to sell. The problem with the small return of kings must be corrected where it occurs not solely on the backs of the eastside setnetters. I submit to you, if the rear end is going out in your car you don't fix it by installing a new fanbelt.

The commercial fishermen as a group have the most important reason of all to want to conserve in order to save the fish, so they can fish in the future. We are not much different then ranchers and are not so greedy for a big season to jepordize the future runs. Most Cook Inlet drifters and setnetters have been in the fishery for generations and are good stewards of the resource. Kenai River guiding is a relatively new fishery and populated with a high percentage of out-of-staters we are here for a short time to exploit the fishery and once this fishery is destroyed like it is in Washington, Oregon and California, they will move on the the rivers not so easily reached.

The Kenai River kings do not belong to the Kenai River guides any more than they belong to any resident of the State of Alaska. The presevation of the Kenai River king salmon must be shared equally and as fairly as possible, for without those kings there will be no Kenai River guides needed. I have fished the same locations for over 50 years and am quite close to the mouth of the Kasilof River and fish only running line nets and have averaged less than 5 kings a year, an amount I am legal to catch sportfishing most years. I have not and never will be a threat to the species.

Let's do our best to save the Kenai River kings but let's not put all the burden on one group of fishermen who are not the true problem and let's not jepordize a completely different red salmon run in the meantime. 

Respectfully submitted and comitted to longtime return of all species to the inlet -- even the Humpies, after all, I fish at Humpy Point and have since the late 1950s. I am a working man who works to pay for his love of a lifestyle of commercial fishing. My grandfather who was born in Ninilchik in the 1890s, my dad who was born in Ninilchik in 1923, myself, my two sons and my 19-year-old grandson have all had the opportunity to fish Cook Inlet and look forward to many more years.

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tyshee 07/21/12 - 11:28 am
Gary Cooper, Setnet closure.

Gary most of the original families on the Cook Inlet have been dependent on the rivers and the harvests since time began and our families respected the harvests before sport and commercial fishing. I believe the tribes could better handle and control the runs and the clam harvests than the fish and game since our people are dependent on food from the sea to make a living and to enhance our diets. We certainly would entertain fair fishing laws. Is it not possible the poor runs are do to pollution in the river from the boats and damage to banks of the river? Catch and release assures a certain amount of fish will certainly die. If you remember as children there were poor fishing years and over abundant years. Isn't this just mother nature? All things have a time and a season including fish. Now the radio says we may have an over abundance of reds in the river while protecting the kings. Hmmmm do they ever get things right?

wleman 07/21/12 - 09:10 pm
setnetters and kings

Gary is right. As a Ninilchik setnetter, I am glad to help ensure that as many kings make it to the rivers as possible. We hardly catch any kings anymore in our nets, unlike in "the good old days". But I'd be glad to roll live kings out of my nets to continue their swim to the Kenai River. I suspect many other setnetters would roll them out also, if it meant helping king escapement. We seldom come across any dead kings in our nets. Our nets are not designed for catching kings. Some kings just thrash around a little, tear a big hole in a net, and continue swimming.

It's time for scientific solutions to the problem of longterm low king returns to be applied to all Cook Inlet fisheries. This season should be the very last one for setnetters to be the scapegoats for a much bigger king problem than they have anything to do with. Proper Kenai and Kasilof River sockeye escapement requires biological management of setnet fishing, as well as other fisheries, to avoid both under-escapement and over-escapement.

If we allow anything other than scientific management of the sockeye runs to determine which fisheries get to harvest fish, it will become much more difficult to manage escapement. None of the fisheries will be happy in the future if over-escapement due to unscientific closure of setnetting eventually causes low returns of sockeye. We have already lost the good pink runs that used to occur in Cook Inlet. Let's not also endanger sockeye runs. We should care about the healthy runs for each species of salmon.

If the hands of the biologists are tied by inappropriate Board policy, then the Board needs to become even more committed to scientific management of Alaska's fisheries. If politics is ever considered in Board decisions, this summer's devastating fiasco should be a lesson that politics should be left out of Board decisions. Only sound biology should determine allocation of fish to the different fisheries and management policies for local biologists to enforce.

The king problem has been a long time in the making and will require concerted, longterm efforts to fix. A number of reasonable options have been suggested to ADF&G. Others should be considered. A king fish hatchery may be required, funded by those who catch kings, including setnetters. Consultation with biologists who have worked on restoring the kings to the Columbia River should take place. Local biologists need to consult with biologists concerning Kodiak fishery king by-catch as well as by-catch in international waters.

Setnetters want kings to return, obviously, so that they can have normal fishing seasons for sockeyes. But everyone must realize that the king problem will not be solved by closing setnetting. Ultimately, that "solution" will create an even worse problem for sockeye runs.

julie 07/22/12 - 09:32 pm
End Salmon Bycatch petition

I have fished the rivers on the Kenai peninsula for over 30 years. My usual catch for a year would be 2 or 3 kings 35 reds and about 12 to 15 silvers. This would feed 3 of us. Lately, without the kings and silver runs are slowing up we can't harvest enough meat. The setnetters have always been apart of red season and don't think they are a problem as I've never seen king bycatch like the trawlers. They, the trawlers admit to 1% but we know there aren't many observers and reports say of much higher figures than are being reported. Salmon & halibut. As much in poundage of halibut as the commercial fishing industry harvests is thrown over in bycatch. These fish belong to Alaskans but it seems that money is ruling out once again. Join us sign & forward to your facebook and email contacts!

potomac 07/26/12 - 10:12 am
recient history

not long ago the mouth of the Kasilof had a emergency opening because of "too many reds" same old story, and yes I saw piles of kings laying around in the mud that day, I think they opened it right up to 600 ft of the mouth vurtually shutting off all fish coming into the Kasilof, that is why I went down there so see for myself.
Over the last 15 years the commercial guide fleet has become huge and when the kings don't show up in the Kenai early run all these hundreds of guides crowd out everyone else in in or on the Kasilof.
The use of 2 stroke motors finally got cut after years of the Kenai being declared a hazard.
The stream bed erosion has been a long topic about boat design, more drift boat only days, less motorized traffic , what was done...the guides with their bigger boats for more big bubba fought and got a 50 HP increase up from the 35 HP that had been going on for a long time, their reason, they couldn't get their bigger boats up on step so they were causing more stream erosion , why didn't they just kick out on fisherman?
This isn't even half of the sorry no movement work of our fishboards, which should be dropped for a biology only approach with no feed back from a fish board made up of eveyone but Joe fisherman. If something doesn't happen real fast we wont see anything but farmed fish out in the Inlet, the silvers have been struggling for years same old story, the pinks are on their way out, the Halibut are also crashing, the king crabs are long gone, the clam size and quantity is crashed, sounds like a song when will we ever learn folks!

kenai123 07/30/12 - 07:43 am
By-catching 5 kings per year?

Again Gary Cooper Sr. attempts to weave a web of mis-statements and half-truths into his personal commercial fisheries propaganda. Gary claims to have set net off the mouth of the Kasilof River now for 50 years and only catches about 5 kings per year... Gary I do not know what kind of an delusional world you live in but maybe you have the worst set-net site in Cook Inlet. I know a lot of set-netters who fish around you and they all admit to catching hundreds of kings each and every year. So maybe they catch them all so there are none left for you? Maybe. We are not really addressing the exceptional set net which may or may not catch hundreds of kings. We are addressing the set-net gear type in general. Set-nets in general TARGET king salmon as mass king salmon killing machines. This happens when Cook Inlet set-netters throw millions of liner feet of set gill nets into Cook Inlet each summer and "ACCIDENTALLY" slaughter one king salmon for each 260 sockeyes. This is actual TARGETING because drift gill nets catch ten time LESS kings for the same amount of sockeyes. When the ADF&G uses these east side set nets, it is in fact TARGETING king salmon because they could be only using the drift gill net fleet 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to NOT TARGET kings. So the TARGETING is with respect to which gear the ADF&G attempts to use to harvest sockeyes, not what an individual set netter may catch. The ADF&G are the guys doing the TARGETING here Gary, not the set netters. You might be catching 5 kings per year but your neighbor set-netters are slaughtering our kings around you. With regard to your other by-catch suggestion, I believe you are correct; it looks like our king problems are by-catch related but it is not just a high seas factor. We have king and halibut by-catch problems from Cook Inlet to the Gulf of Alaska and the first thing we need is for guys like yourself to finally admit the truth. That truth is that if anyone throws a gill-net into the saltwater, they should be responsible for killing ANYTHING which they do not intend to kill! It is called by-catch Gary and any person who throws a gill net into the saltwater has to deal with it, EVEN YOU! Those 5 kings you strangled to death in your set nets are 5 kings which you had no right to accidentally intercept, the commercial gill net fleet has been allocated the majority of our sockeye salmon but the state has allocated those kings to anglers, not set gill nets. You should not have even intercepted 5 kings but the gear type you are using is so out-dated that you can't help it. It is your gear type which must go Gary because it kills to many things other than sockeye salmon. Set gill nets kill anything in the water and set gill nets kill way more king salmon than drift gill nets. These nets are killing king salmon or even beluga whale calf's. Gee I wonder where all the beluga whales have gone... Well I am afraid they have gone to the same place where everything else has
gone after being snared and strangle to death in your set gill nets. The sport fisheries which you so dislike have one giant advantage over you and your gill nets Gary, they can instantly release ALIVE anything which requires releasing. If there is a problem with low escapement numbers, the sport fishery can instantly pivot on a dime and release ALIVE any stock of concern. This is why sportfishing is the future and gill netting is the past, much like fish traps are also now part of our gloomy fisheries past.

Many Alaskan's are wondering what can or should be done to resolve the decline in king salmon within the Cook Inlet area. If you ask the Alaska Department of Fish & Game they will point to a snowstorm of data and grafts, which in the end leaves the viewer even more confused about our commercial by-catch problems. I have been reviewing our king loss data since 2002 and have come to a single conclusion. That conclusion is that many things may need to change within our commercial fisheries but key within those changes is that statewide we must stop all commercial fisheries from profiting "in any way" when they kill non-targeted specie as by-catch. This means that commercial fisheries should be legally required to retain and process ALL BY-CATCH and then DONATE it to a charity. That means that if you "by-catch kill" a beluga whale calf; you are forced to retain, process and donate it. If you by-catch kill a king salmon: you must retain, process and donate it. By charity I mean some kind of Food Bank. This would prevent commercial fisheries from donating by-catch to their favorite "commercial fisheries non-profit".
This change alone, over time would eventually resolve most of Alaska's current by-catch problems. With this change commercial fisheries would eventually be forced to at least begin thinking about avoiding non-targeted by-catch. The king salmon by-catch issue is 100% about money; if you can make by-catch non-profitable, commercial fisheries will eventually find a way to prevent the financial drain. If we leave things the way they are we will be permanently losing many marine specie and fisheries in the very near future.
As long as commercial fisheries are allowed to profit "in any way" from by-catch, the by-catch issue will never go away and therefore all our Alaskan natural resources
and fisheries will go on suffering FOREVER. The Alaskan public must organize on this commercial fisheries by-catch issue and tightly focus on this single goal.
That goal must be to " REMOVE ALL THE PROFIT" from all commercial fisheries by-catch. The new reality in our fisheries future must be that commercial by-catch is going to cost you BIG. It really does not matter if it is a large fine or the charity donation, the Alaskan [filtered word] needs to organize and do whatever it takes to begin the process of eventually holding commercial fisheries accountable for the marine destruction it is causing within our ocean. The wholesale slaughter of non-targeted species is no longer just acceptable losses. This mean that the Alaskan public must rise up and compel the Alaska Board of Fish and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to take action and make SUBSTANTIAL changes in the way ALL by-catch is processed by ALL of our commercial fisheries. This is a very reasonable goal for the Alaskan public to pursue in resolving this very unreasonable waste of our common Alaskan natural resource heritage.

If you are concerned about the king run, by-catch, closures, the pollock trawlers STILL FISHING and KILLING KINGS & HALIBUT sign & forward this petition to all your friends

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