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Fish board actions do little to conserve kings

Posted: March 11, 2014 - 8:40am

Mark Hamilton, president of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) recently opined that the Board of Fish (BOF) meetings had produced a “clear victory for Kenai kings.” I disagree, and believe that any objective person would disagree as well.

Many have suggested that the blame for lack of kings lies with the offshore fisheries. Scientific studies show that minimal interception actually occurs. (Google: NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-244). Others suggest that Cook Inlet set net interception is the culprit, but science does not support this theory either: ADFG statistics illustrate that CI set netters catch less than 13% of the second run and 0% of the first run. This leaves reasonable observers with one rational conclusion: In river habitat of Kenai kings may be stressed to a near breaking point.

A recent study (google: Turbidity Monitoring on the Lower Kenai River) illustrates clearly that turbidity caused by power boats elevates water quality to unacceptable State and Federal standards. This fact was ignored by the board. Dirty water is bad for salmon, especially kings who, for the most part, spawn in the mainstem of the Kenai. The banks of the Kenai have been chronically eroded over the past 30 years as a direct result of wakes generated by up to 600 boats per day. This powerful fleet of commercial guides has targeted kings on their spawning beds for more than 30 years. Thousands of hooks per day are deployed directly on spawning beds for most of the summer. The attendant noise pollution, exhaust, and wakes do not contribute to a successful spawning experience for kings.

The BOF could have taken some steps in the right direction to improve the

quality of life for kings in the river. They could have implemented more “drift only” days. They could have provided for spawning sanctuaries. But they did not. The reason? Mark Hamiltons’ KRSA lobbied the board to deny these actions. Does this sound like a conservation group to you?

The BOF process has been lauded by some as an open and democratic process. Sure, everyone is allowed to speak, but the lobbying happens behind the curtain and most actions are predetermined prior to the obligatory public testimony. In essence, KRSA and their paid staff in collaboration with a cooperative BOF, control the details of the commercial fisheries management plan in Cook Inlet; a commercial fishery that provides 5% of the global production of wild sockeye. Raise your hand if this makes any sense to you.

You may have heard about the proposed initiative that, if approved by the courts, would eliminate set netting in Cook Inlet. This is the initiative brought forward by KRSA founding father Bob Penney that would, if passed, eliminate more than 500 working families in Cook Inlet. This initiative was sponsored by many KRSA present and past board members, including current president Mark Hamilton. Eliminating set netters will never solve in river habitat problems.

The Endangered Species Act, in Federal Law, is designed to take action to protect a species when one or more of the following factors exist: 1) damage to, or destruction of, a species’ habitat; 2) over utilization of the species for commercial, scientific, or educational purposes; 3) disease or predation; 4) inadequacy of existing protection; 5) other natural or manmade factors that affect the continued existence of the species. I believe that most of these five factors exist, and have existed on the river for many years.

With awareness that the early king run in the Kenai has been virtually decimated without any interference whatsoever from commercial fishermen, perhaps it is time to look beyond the BOF process for meaningful relief for Kenai River king salmon. Putting political considerations ahead of sound scientific management is morally, scientifically, and intellectually wrong. In the final analysis, the Kenai kings may pass onto the endangered species list at the hands of those who have created the illusion that they are protecting them.

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letsgeteducated 03/11/14 - 04:26 pm

You have articulated the situation so well. Thank you… This is exactly what many of us are thinking but have not been able to put in words.

delaneykev 03/11/14 - 05:51 pm
Response to Frank's opinion piece

Frank, I get from talking to you at the Board meeting and reading your opinion pieces in the Clarion since the meeting that you are not happy with the actions taken by the Board. What I don't get is what you seek to accomplish by repeatedly offering up accusations and arguments that continually fail to convince "objective" people.
Alaska is experiencing historic low numbers of king salmon across the entire State and nowhere is that more of a problem for fishery management than in Upper Cook Inlet during July. The problem before the Board was how to reshape fisheries management plans to try to cope with low numbers of late-run kings. The 2013 was down about 65% from the historic average and 2014 is forecast to be the same as 2013. The management plans developed over the years in UCI were not developed to deal with this magnitude of shortfall, that much should be clear from the way things went in 2012 and 2013. It is the obligation of the Board to allocate the burden of conservation and that is what they did.
Every fishery scientist who has testified before the Board or published on the subject has blamed ocean productivity for the unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in. Turbidity and erosion blamed on the sportfishing guiding industry on the Kenai are red herrings when it comes to explaining the downturn in king salmon production in Alaska, that's the reason those arguments found no traction before the Board. One more drift only day when fishing for king salmon in the Kenai is not going to turn ocean production around, its not even going to dramatically change boating traffic on the river.
The Board process works as well as it ever did and I thank anyone who is willing to serve, its a hard, thankless job. If there is a way for the process to be improved it may be for the participants in the process to bring to the table some new arguments and a willingness to accept new information and, consider compromise.
One outcome that you ignore is the step toward a more selective deployment of set net gear in an effort to pass more kings to the river. If gear can be modified to catch sockeye and pass kings that's a gift horse the commercial fishery can ride all the way to the bank, and, it was suggested by members of the commercial set net fishery.
I don't even know what to make of the Endangered Species stuff you include. I'll just agree that the ESA is the last thing we would want included in any debate over management of UCI salmon.

Lifer 03/11/14 - 08:20 pm

And there he goes, KRSA's bought-and-paid-for "scientist" telling us how to manage our fish from his home in Arizona. Funny how he ignored the clear connection Mr. Mullens made between KRSA and the anti-setnet initiative. Though they deny a connection their executive director, their chairman and more than 20 current and former members signed the petition to start the initiative process.
As to the gear reduction forced on the set net fleet, it was neither new information, nor true information that convinced the board to enact the restrictions. KRSA has been pushing short nets for many BOF meeting cycles with no scientific data to support their efficacy. Now, in a time of desperation, short nets come up and KRSA lobbies the board to require them, and then shrugs and says, we didn't suggest it.
As to the water quality in river, Mr. Delaney's assertion that a drift only day is " not even going to dramatically change boating traffic on the river" is beyond ridiculous.
This group has divided the peninsula and fanned the flames of the UCI fish wars for too long. KRSA is a lobbying group that represents influential lodge and land owners, and in-river commercial fishers—guides—at the expense of the community and the fish they purport to conserve.

AK4LIFE 03/11/14 - 08:45 pm

Completely agree with franks article. Let's get educated & lifer are the voices of many!! All make good points & fight for what's going on in there back yard. Kevin only cares because he's paid to care!!

leewaytooo 03/12/14 - 02:30 am
so, IF the adfg sonar results

so, IF the adfg sonar results are correct.....
2013 late run kings escapement 17,028,
supposedly 87% of all kings make it into the river
12.998% being caught in the inlet,
8.27% being caught in river
inlet caught equals 2,544
river caught equals 1,619
difference equals 925
the total amount of late run kings would be 19,572
the total red escapement is given as 1,358,781
plus inlet harvest of 2,746,000
total 4,101,781
add the king total of 19,572
equals 4,121,353
the percentage of late king run to red run is .00474%
what percentage of the late king run would the COMMERCIAL
in river guides consider to be their share?
it would seem that they would prefer they be given
more consideration in order to play with EVERYONE'S food...
in considering the numbers it would make sense to
support the setnetters and drift fisherpeople... as the
value of their efforts to everyone's economic well being, far
exceed what is produced by the COMMERCIAL guides and
their playing with everyone's food.
doesn't make sense to punish the group that is producing
more for the sake of the group that wants more from
less at the expense of the everyone.

how many of those COMMERCIAL guides think
communism is the answer???
not one is my guess.
and yet that is what they want.
take from the one's that
produce more, to benefit the few that produce less.

cormit 03/12/14 - 01:56 pm
Conserving kings

Mr. Delaney tells us the BOF process works as good as it ever did ..... a hard thankless job indeed. Let's everybody stand up and cheer those thankless unappreciated board members. You can stop cheering now.

Maybe we should save a cheer or two for KRSA's success in derailing the confirmation of reasonable BOF members in order to get a board more willing to deliver regulatory "do-nothing to us" ... changes most supported by KRSA.

"Mysterious ocean conditions" .... it's happening everywhere. What other river in the state is missing a specific age/size class of king salmon ..... the same age/size class that has been most targeted for the last 30 years by in river trophy chasers ..... and has now disappeared?

Why shouldn't we cheer for the wisdom of KRSA and the BOF to finally get those east side set-netters to cut their nets in half? Surely that will solve the problem.

Like Frank said, the cumulative impact of the in-river king salmon fishery has all but destroyed the same fish they are targeting.

Mr. Delaney and Mr. Hamilton congratulate the BOF for bringing relief to the troubled Kenai River king salmon. The thing is ....... they didn't do anything ....... nothing ..... that will improve spawning conditions for the most impacted main stem kings. No meaningful expansion of spawning sanctuaries. No steps to get excessive boat traffic off of kings trying to spawn and guard their nests. We'll keep hooking and releasing kings in the act of spawning and hope those shorter nets will do the trick.

And when the survival of Kenai's kings continues to fail ..... what then? It's called the Endangered Species Act ...... and Bob Penny, Mark Hamilton, and Kevin Delaney will be powerless to stop it.

Alaskaborn 03/12/14 - 02:27 pm
August Spawning Period

The median spawning date for mainstem spawning king salmon that enter the river during the early-run is August 21 and August 30 for mainstem spawning king salmon that return during the late-run. All the tributaries are closed to salmon fishing. Mainstem spawning kings are not establishing spawning beds during July. Mainstem spawning kings do not show site fidelity to spawning areas until after the sport fishery closes to king salmon fishing on July 31. How can people be fishing on the spawning beds when there are no spawning beds being made during July? All of this information was presented to the board by F&G from their tagging study. Go to F&G web site and look at staff comments on king salmon proposals. All the information is there.

Fish are returning at a younger age all over the state. Even hatchery fish are returning at a younger age. The late-run has no harvest selectivity when looking at the total harvest. The early-run can't be selectively harvested for larger, older fish because of the slot limit that started in 2002. The harvest rate of early-run fish averages 34-38%, well within sustainable harvest rates for king salmon.

Poor king production is a statewide issue, not a Kenai centric issue. Just focusing on the Kenai when searching for solutions will lead you down the wrong road to identifying the problem. Pointing fingers at user groups as the cause of the production issue just doesn't work in this case.

Its real simple, when the harvestable surplus isn't enough to provide historic harvest levels, then you have to harvest fewer fish. It's up to the board to decide how that reduction is to be divided up. That's what they did.

Raoulduke 03/12/14 - 07:02 pm
Conserving How?

I am sure. This will not be received very well,But here goes.Close down the set netters.They caused all the problems.Close down the river guides.They caused the problem.Close down the sport fisher.They caused the problem.No! No! The commercial fleet is the problem.But Let my group fish.We did not cause any problem.It is every one else,s fault,but not my fishing group.Let us CATCH,and RELEASE as stated by the BoF.Where is the conservation in stressing the fish before they get to the spawning beds? The finger pointing of blame that has been going around these fishing group circles is meaningless.Unless! All the fishing groups start directing the finger pointing in their very own direction.Every fishing group has been a contributor towards the problem.These groups have noticed a major decline for years,and has done nothing to improve the situation.Except to continue to fish the kings.The short term financial gain of all commercial fishing i.e. river guides,set netters I believe.Is not worth the possibility of the Kings going the way of the Atlantic Salmon,or Cod. A 5 year state wide moratorium on King fishing is the only answer for the conservation,and possible survival of the species.If not.Someday you will be able to tell your kid.When you take them to the River,and boast "I remember.The time when the kings would jump in your boat .Now one is lucky to get a fair size trout". This phrase will be heard frequently.If the finger pointing doesn't stop,and the powers that be continue to sit on their hands.Playing political games.The Kings are in a Dire Strait.They need the help more. Than the ones doing the fishing.There are other forms of gainful employment,but when the Kings are gone.The kings are GONE.

Les is an idiot
Les is an idiot 03/12/14 - 09:21 pm
Get the facts

The copper river is forcasted to have one of the biggest king returns in the last thirty years. It has been commercially fished for more than a hundred years. The last two years had the largest red returns ever on record. The kenai has to many users period.

im4fisheries 03/17/14 - 03:21 pm
Kings are not endangered.....

Kings, Kings, Kings..... Gee boys, follow the money! Commercial fisherman catch ONLY 13% of the kings headed for the Kenai so its not about the money kings produce for them! In 1972 Commercial fishers were limited in Cook Inlet..... All runs were healthy and growing bigger.... then in 1980... Vince DeVito discovered how to "sport" catch kings and a NEW industry was born..... million dollar lodges were built and life was good....but that was not enough.... more lodges, more guides, more clients, more, more, more! NEED MORE so lets shut down the commercial guys and get MORE!!
I have heard it said that these guides would catch 150-200 kings a year!! Boy, no wonder!!! Now that the guides have run our river into the ground I say either enhance your kings or stop fishing them altogether until the commercial fleet can bring them up to their former glory!
Control the number of users on the Kenai like they do on the Colorado river and start doing something in your own ranks to turn this trend around!
Limit the number of users on the Kenai by lottery permit, Do not allow Catch and Kill, Enhance the run, Plant the kings in another river!!! Drift ONLY in the Kenai, Make the dipnetter PAY something!! We all know this is not about subsistence but a new "sport" to catch and kill something.... most fish are given away, thrown away at the end of winter, or heaven forbid.... smoked, canned, or dried for money.... make them accountable too.... Its no doubt that the Kenai is being 'LOVED" to death... so either enhance or limit the number of people.....

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