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Salmon season

An Outdoor View

Posted: June 15, 2012 - 9:33am

Author’s note: The following column, shortened slightly for brevity, first appeared in the Clarion on June 14, 2002. Nothing has changed.

Salmon season is here, finally. And before we know it, salmon season will be gone.

In their determined drive to reproduce, salmon give the entire summer a sense of urgency. What a boring place this would be without them!

Salmon season, which runs all summer and well into fall, is a time for establishing priorities. What’s more important? Painting the house, or being in the right spot during a 5 a.m. high tide in early June? The house has needed paint for two or three years, and it’s still standing. Obviously, it can wait. On the other hand, the salmon are available for only a few days. Enough said.

Every year, I tell myself I’m going to be ready when salmon season comes, but I’m never ready. If anything, I’m a little less ready with each passing year. In March, I had serious intentions of tying a few dozen flies. The early-run reds are due any day, and I’ve yet to tie one. I meant to give my boat, motor and fishing reels a good going-over in April. It’s now the middle of June, and the going-over has yet to get going.

It’s not like salmon season sneaks up and surprises me. Having fished Kenai Peninsula waters for about 30 years, I have a fair idea when the first kings show up off Deep Creek and when they hit fresh water in fishable numbers. Yet, no matter how many reminder notes I make to myself, I end up on the back side of the 8-ball.

The first salmon of the year has a great deal of significance to me, and to a great many others. If you’ve ever gone through the seemingly endless months of winter without salmon in the streams, and then watched the king salmon return in the spring, you can’t help but feel a spiritual connection with these fish. Their yearly return is a reminder that we, salmon and humans alike, are connected in a great web of life.

It’s relatively unimportant who catches that first salmon of spring. This year, a friend caught my first fish. My family and friends felt thankful and blessed that he shared his bounty.

Wherever salmon are found, the first of the season has always had special significance. In Canadian researcher Hillary Stewart’s wonderful book, “Indian Fishing: Early methods on the Northwest Coast,” she writes: “Sustenance for most of the people of the Northwest Coast was dependent on the return of the migrating species of salmon, and there were prayers said on the occasion of catching the first of the season, or of the run. The ‘First Salmon Ceremony’ was a ritual of reverence and respect expressed in many different ways. Some people had a ceremony for the first of each species to be caught, some for just the first of the season; with some it was a family ceremony, with others the whole village participated.”

That one fish can elicit so much reverence is not something to take lightly.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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kenai123 07/09/12 - 12:38 am
What fishermen really want to talk about.

That's really great, we don't really need to hear about painting the house, the June high tide or even being ready for the salmon season. We would like to hear about how all our Alaskan anglers are totally behind the 8-ball on why all our kings are dying out in the ocean. We would like to hear about how our ADF&G fisheries managers have deliberately painted us into a corner as they restrict our freshwater sportfisheries and basically do nothing to those commercial fishermen in the salt busy by-catching our kings as they wipe them off the planet.

Managing king salmon stocks on the Kenai River is not a job for the faint hearted. From 1980 to 1990 our Kenai River king runs were much more predictable than today. The main reason these runs were more predicable then is because there were less humans attempting to intercept them back then. King salmon commercial by-catch issues back then were at a minimum as Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet commercial fisheries intercept factors were very low. By 1990 those commercial intercept factors began taking huge bites out of Alaska's extremely strong king runs. Commercial fisheries which had only been by-catching a few thousand kings annually suddenly exploded and began intercepting hundreds of thousands of these kings between 1980 and 2000. Kodiak Island and Cook Inlet commercial fisheries basically sell their king by-catch and Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska commercial fisheries kill their kings and throw them away dead back into the ocean. These Bering Sea and Gulf kings must be dumped dead because it is illegal to sell them. All of this basically comes down to hundreds of thousands of kings being annually removed from Alaska's saltwater before they have a chance to return and spawn within their home rivers and streams. Year after year of this ocean shredding of our king resource has had a tremendous cumulative effect thus resulting in the general suppression of all Cook Inlet king stocks. It was in 2002 that these commercial by-catch factors first began having an effect on the Kenai River sportfish environment That effect showed up as both first and second king runs began showing up late along with a size reduction. At first we notice these runs only showing up a few days later than normal. Eventually the few days turned into weeks as our "second run king arrival" moved from the first week of July to the second and then even sometimes on into the third week. Occasionally our second run of kings would show up in the first or second week of July but in general the run had been destabilized and was very unpredictable by 2002.

Currently we are forced to expect our late run of kings to show up at just about anytime between July 1st - 25th. This run instability did not need to happen; it is the direct result of run-away commercial saltwater by-catch factors These by-catch factors were also first notice by fisheries managers in 2002 but few of them could convince themselves that our saltwater commercial fisheries were capable of such dramatic and far reaching run changes. Today we have modern fisheries managers who are "still unaware" of the history behind this delayed July king entry pattern on the Kenai River. These managers basically take a short-term view of this situation and interpret this wildly fluctuating entry pattern as some kind of recent event. Because these managers assume a freshwater king problem, they attempt to resolve the problem with only freshwater solutions. These chosen freshwater solutions are usually only freshwater sportfish restrictions. These fisheries managers are incorrectly applying freshwater fisheries solutions to a saltwater problem. This improper assessment / solution format then basically results in a delayed reaction to
actually resolving the source saltwater problem. This incorrect problem solving can be compared to placing a bandage on cancer and somehow expecting the problem to go away. Using freshwater solutions to remedy saltwater problems creates even more problems as fisheries managers are lulled into a false sense of security, while they stop looking for real solutions. The end result of following this kind of a false logic and problem solving, is that everyone stands around for years waiting for saltwater slaughtered kings to return to the freshwater. If a person desires evidence of what is happening here they need only view the results of decades worth's of king salmon freshwater restrictions on anglers
in the Cook Inlet area. All of these extensive freshwater restrictions have resulted in fewer and fewer kings returning to Cook Inlet.

At this time Kenai River king salmon stocks require a fisheries manager with an extremely cool hand. The realization that our Cook Inlet king troubles ARE NOT
freshwater based must dominate the solution debate and resulting regulatory changes. Most of our proposed king salmon, freshwater regulatory changes should be
viewed for what they actually are, superficial camouflage for a much deeper rooted problem within the saltwater. It is not rational to continue assuming that short-term freshwater regulatory solutions will in anyway address this long-term saltwater king salmon problem.

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