On the evening of May 9th the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee had an emergency meeting with approximately 70 people in attendance. The participants were comprised of a diverse group of fishing guides, commercial fisherman, sport fisherman, and business owners. The topic of the evening was an emergency order that was arbitrarily and capriciously issued by ADF&G on the afternoon of May 9th. This order changed the management plan for the early run of chinook salmon on the Kenai River to catch and release only. There was unanimous opposition to this plan from all attendees, an unprecedented show of solidarity from such a diverse group.
ADF&G reasoning for its decision is the department’s “projected” low return of early-run chinook. ADF&G has “estimated” the early return to be 5,326 chinook (at best an educated guess) and has an optimal escapement goal is 5,300-8,500 fish. While conservation of chinook salmon is a priority, there is some rather basic information available that ADF&G should have addressed. If an open fishery, as was originally planned by the department, was allowed to progress they would at least have in-river fish counts and catch numbers to indicate the true run size of the run. In 2012 the projection for early run of chinook salmon was similar to this year’s estimate. There were less than 200 fish caught and killed by June 7th, which is the historical quarter point of the early run. With an exploitation rate last year of approximately 200 fish, logic would indicate an in-river catch rate of more than 200 fish would mean that the run was going to be larger than expected and a lesser rate a smaller return.
Rather than rely on actual catch rates and in conjunction with the new sonar counter, the department waited until now to reveal this decision even though they established their 2013 return estimates last year. The position of meeting attendees last night is that ADF&G has acted irresponsibly in this matter and that the damage to the local economy that this action will cause is unwarranted. The proper management decision would be to execute the fishery as planned, and take action to further restrict or liberalize as the run develops. While a cautious approach is prudent, their current decision places complete reliance on the new, untested, sonar counter to establish the size of the return without angler input.
ADF&G should reverse the decision that they have made. The damage our economy will suffer this year and for years to come, will be from the perception of “Alaska is closed to salmon fishing.”