I have been a Kenai Peninsula resident for over ten years and have sport fished in Alaska for nearly 60 years. I was a member of the Kenai-Soldotna Department of Fish and Game Advisory Committee for 10 years and chairman in 2012. I accepted this assignment in hopes of working towards a fisheries management plan that would protect all species for all user groups; for a fair and reasonable plan that provides a proper balance for sport, subsistence, personal use, Native and commercial fishing so that the Upper Cook Inlet fishery remains sustainable and produces enough fish for all users. At least that was my goal.
King salmon populations are all but gone on the Kenai Peninsula. In my opinion, commercial fishermen have been allowed to way overfish king salmon. It will probably take years to restore the king population to “normal” levels; some say it may take as long as ten years to bring them back in healthy numbers. It’s clear we need realistic restrictions upon sport, personal-use and commercial set net fisheries so that all user groups share in the burden of conservation equitably in times of scarcity. Commercial set net fishermen must share in the conservation of Kenai kings. Once bait and/or harvest restrictions occur in the sport fishery, commercial fishermen must be restricted to regular harvest periods only. We are years past due doing anything to protect this sad decline. Now, we are managing in a crisis mode.
I am completely empathetic with all sides of this issue. Understandably, with so much passion from all quarters of the issue, no one wants to give an inch when it comes to their livelihood. But the pocketbook should not trump responsible conservation; hence, our situation today. At current species depletion rates, king salmon sport fishing guides and commercial set net fishermen may need to be looking for career changes.