This week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed commercial fishing for east-side set netters on the Kenai Peninsula due to a low king salmon return.
As a set netter based off Cohoe Loop near Humpy Point, this came as a devastating blow to what has already been a dismal season for those of us trying to operate a small family-run business.
If the king salmon run is indeed in decline, as Fish and Game suggests, then we agree that conservation measures must be taken. The health of the river, and the salmon, should come first. We are willing to do our part to lessen our take of kings (which for our operation amounts to roughly 1 percent of our overall catch).
However, after meeting with Fish and Game commercial fishing biologist Pat Shields, talking with past biologists and other experts in the field, we lack confidence in their numbers. The Department has historically used one method of counting salmon escapement that is now thought to be inaccurate. It is now using a new method of counting that also has shown to be problematic. This new method can't even tell a king salmon from a red salmon, especially when there are large numbers of reds moving into the river, as is now happening.
In short, the Department is running in circles.
Commercial set netters are bearing the brunt of this so-called conservation effort. Our livelihoods are being ripped out from under us. Our crews are sitting on the beach with no work to be had. Our children, to whom we hoped our family business would be passed on, are seeing their college fund drained away.
We are Alaskans. We have paid every State fee requested of us to do business as set netters -- shore leases, crew permits, permit holder fees, sticker buoy fees, etc. We have waited patiently as the Department continued to withhold fishing opportunities for us, trusting that in the end they would recognize our need to still survive as businesses.
If 400 small businesses were to be put out of business in any other scenario, the state would be up in arms. Yet news reports are not asking the tough questions on these statistics, rather blindly accepting them as fact. Or worse yet, they're not even reporting on it at all, as if this small pocket of fishermen is irrelevant to the community.
This closure will have a huge economic impact on the area. It is unfair, not supported by valid statistics and an insult to hard-working Alaskans on the Kenai Peninsula.