I wrote in September of my desire to test Selective Harvest Modules (SHMs) as a method for setnetters to exclude king salmon from their harvest. The Department of Fish and Game (F&G) has since issued me a Commissioner’s Permit to test two SHMs.
One will be tested on the beach where setnets are typically fished on “running lines.” This is a prime area for catching fish that presents unique challenges from waves. Here we must allow for traffic to pass and should make consideration for appearances in the viewshed. Since my SHMs are built from seines, they will lay on the beach at low tide, unlike the fish traps of long ago. Another SHM will be tested further from shore, on the tide flats. SHMs are designed to fish a 210-foot swath of water, same as setnets. That allows for SHMs to fit into the existing setnet fishery layout.
About 1988 a sportfishing group suggested a single trap be set in the Kenai River and setnets be eliminated entirely. Permit holders were to receive a yearly check from profits. That socialistic approach would put thousands of people out of work. Even forming co-ops and building large SHMs every couple miles along beaches would eliminate many jobs. My SHMs have a dual focus — to pass king salmon through our fishery unharmed and maintain the existing independence of setnetters.
I’ve heard suggestions that beach seines could be used to capture salmon and then release kings. Such a technique would likely harm the salmon by dragging them through shallow water. Getting a hold of kings to release them might resemble a frenzy without handles. And if the kings became stressed they may have trouble getting away from the waves near shore. I plan to only fish my beach-side SHMs during flood tides. That will guarantee me a release point away from the surf and prevent having the tide go out on a seine full of fish.
During this test I will be allowed, during setnet openings, to deploy a SHM in place of one of my setnets. I can sell the salmon I catch, but of course will be releasing kings. F&G is providing an observer, and by this letter I’m extending an invitation to the public to watch as well. Simultaneously fishing with setnets will provide efficiency information. I can compare the SHM harvest to that of my adjacent nets. If our fishery is again closed for king salmon conservation purposes, F&G may allow me to open my SHM for testing, however, I will then release all salmon species and won’t be permitted to sell anything.
While support for my SHMs has been warm and broad, I do have a few critics. One critic says this sort of test should only be carried out by trained scientists. I say hire them already! But here’s a story for consideration: Once I was contacted by a researcher from the University of Alaska. He wanted my advice on how to capture Pacific sandfish. I told him, “Offer herring fishers $10.00/pound and we’ll deliver.”
Instead they contracted to someone who wasn’t a local fisher. When the contractor came up with no sandfish, F&G manager Paul Reusch called me to ask if I could bring him some sandfish for the University to examine. I grabbed a couple gallons out of our nets that day and delivered them. I would welcome more effort by the State, but I’m very grateful for the permits I have.
A few dreamers say, “There was no shortage of kings last year, it was all a colossal mistake by F&G king counters. I think it’s safe to say management mistakes were made, but I have no doubt that kings are presently in short supply. And deflated abundance or not, many years king salmon have cost Cook Inlet setnetters a lot of money in lost fishing time and in defence against draconian Board of Fish proposals.
SHMs are almost sure to improve quality and they hold out hope for a fishery that harvests almost exclusively Kenai and Kasilof bound sockeye and pink salmon.