Time to speak up on fish stocking plans

The middle of winter seems like a strange time to discuss king salmon management. However, nothing could be farther than the truth.

With Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s recent announcement that the Division of Sport Fish is now accepting public comment on its statewide fish-stocking plan, now is the time.

Every angler, resident or visitor, as well as every local business owner, should voice his or her opinion. Our kings are absolutely vital to our economy and it’s no secret that last year’s chinook returns to the Kenai Peninsula were alarmingly low. ADF&G cites the curious feel-good euphemism “a period of low abundance” but that tells us little about why our early runs are weak. Call it what you want and use whatever scape-goat is handy, but the bottom line is that there are many reasons that less kings than ever returned to our area, including the fact that ADF&G has been cutting (and in some cases completely dropping) our chinook smolt numbers for years.

The Kasilof River is a perfect example. When I first moved here, a little more than two decades ago, over 400,000 king smolt where released in Crooked Creek. A few years later, that number was dropped to approximately 200,000, then about 100,000, followed by 80-60,000 the last few years. Did you know that NO chinook hatchery smolt will be released in 2013? No wonder the Kasilof River, and the Deep Creek marine fishery, are but a shadow of their former glory. It’s also a big part of why our July fisheries are so crowded; we’ve virtually lost our early runs and thus angler effort balloons into the late-run. It should be no surprise to the department why angler sales are down.

Warning: if and when ADF&G comes up with a cop-out excuse, don’t automatically buy into it. Straying, hatchery hot-water availability, imprinting practices, and funding have all been addressed. The bottom line: there is no good reason not to supplement this early run with reasonable numbers of king smolt, provided good sound hatchery practices are employed and hatchery fish are not placed on top of truly wild runs (which by the way, the bastardized “naturally produced” early run Kasilof kings are not).

It’s simply a matter of most bang-for-our-buck. Would you rather have a plane full of hatchery kokannee dropped in a remote, difficult to access lake, or do you think that we would all be better served by returning the most popular roadside king fishery in the state to where it once was?

Comments may be sent to Diane Loopstra in Anchorage at 907-269-0294, or e-mailed to diane.loopstra@alaska.gov. Comments may also be mailed to Diane Loopstra, William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, 941 N. Reeve Blvd., Anchorage, AK, 99501.

The deadline for comment is Jan. 15, 2013.

Please voice your thoughts now! Our once great fisheries need your support!

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