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Not fishing for Kenai kings

Posted: April 25, 2013 - 3:02pm

Earlier this month, the Clarion ran a story about Greg Brush, a local fishing guide who said he’s going to stop letting his clients kill Kenai River king salmon. Due to last year’s weak run of kings and a gloomy forecast for this year, he’s switching to catch-and-release only, except “those kings fatally hooked during the fight that would otherwise die will be harvested, when legal,” he said. Brush acknowledged that it wouldn’t make a difference in the fishery or the run, but said he wanted to make a statement.

I have a better statement: Don’t fish for Kenai River kings at all.

I didn’t fish for Kenai River kings in 2012, and I won’t fish for them this year, if the run is weak. Sure, I want to be on the river, sitting in the warm sun, watching summer happen while I wait for a bite. That’s a large part of why I live here. But the idea of fishing during a weak run, hooking a salmon and “playing” it until it’s tired enough that I can pull it in and unhook it, then wondering if it will die from the ordeal, well, that takes the joy out of it.

Using catch-and-release fishing to conserve salmon is a bad idea, and a controversial one. Pacific salmon get only one chance to reproduce their kind. Regardless of good intentions, you can’t catch and release a fish without injuring it. At the very least, you cause the fish stress, making it struggle to escape and fight for its life. At worst, it dies. To pretend that you’re doing no harm is just fooling yourself.

Until the king runs improve, not fishing for kings at all is the only moral choice. Trouble is, money is now a force in every decision-making process. Not fishing is out of the question for the tens of thousands of people who have staked their fortunes in fishing. Too many guides, lodges and other businesses have invested in the Kenai River king salmon fishery. Too many commercial fishermen are fishing on mixed salmon stocks in Cook Inlet, complicating the management of king salmon fisheries. Too many local governments fear losing tax revenues. Too many people are facing bankruptcy, moving from the area or having to find some other way than fishing to make a living. When you’re in survival mode, you don’t spend much time stewing about what’s moral and what’s not.

The anguish of local fishermen and business owners reminds me of what happened in New England when the Atlantic cod fishery went bust. There, fishermen thought they could go out and make a living by harvesting a commonly owned resource, while fishery managers thought they were managing the fishing well enough for it to be sustainable. I see the same thing happening here.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and our state’s overblown sport-fishing industry are intent on what fishery managers refer to as “maximizing opportunity.” Catch-and-release fishing helps do this by allowing fishing to continue even during poor salmon runs, they argue. I disagree. To me, it’s arguable whether maximizing anything is wise, even in times of plenty. When not enough salmon are returning to ensure survival of their kind, maximizing opportunity is a recipe for disaster.

Fish and Game bought into catch-and-release fishing for salmon years ago. With catch-and-release, the agency can conserve salmon and maximize fishing opportunity at the same time. Without catch-and-release fishing, the state wouldn’t sell as many fishing licenses and king salmon stamps to non-residents, who fund most of the Department’s programs.

Catching trout for fun, just to play with them and turn them loose is one thing, but catching a fish that has a tradition of being used only for food since time immemorial is something else. Add to that the fact that our salmon have just one opportunity in its life to recreate their own kind, and the full enormity of catching and releasing them for “sport” becomes glaringly obvious, especially when a salmon run is weak.

Will my not fishing for Kenai kings make a difference in the fishery or the run?

Not if I’m the only one not fishing. However, I think that many of us think catching — let alone catching and releasing — king salmon during a weak run is not just wrong, but immoral. If none of us fish for Kenai kings, it will do more than make a statement. It will put more kings on the spawning grounds.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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pengy 04/27/13 - 01:50 pm
Terrible analogy. How does

Terrible analogy. How does Greg Brush and sport anglers catching kings remind you of the overfishing of cod on the East Coast? The cod fishery was depleted got it, commercial fisherman. Not from sport fisherman keeping or
catching and releasing cod. This begs the question, has a rod and reel fishery ever devasted a fishery to near extinction?

ADF&G has found that unlimited sport angling has been unable to rid us of those pesky Pike. One last point, an ADF&G study shows 1 out of 11 released king salmon will die. That fish is lost to the dinner table but not to the ecosystem. This is precisely why ADF&G uses c&r as a tool to manage the fishery.

beaverlooper 04/27/13 - 07:04 pm
This begs the question

"This begs the question, has a rod and reel fishery ever devastated a fishery to near extinction?
ADF&G has found that unlimited sport angling has been unable to rid us of those pesky Pike", and yet there are many lakes around here and some rivers/creeks that are stocked with trout and salmon every year .
I often don't agree with Mr. Palmer but I do this time. Money and greed will kill the Kenai River king.
His analogy fits because THERE IS AN IN RIVER COMMERCIAL FISHERY!!On top of all of the other commercial fisheries kings have to make it through to get there.

Suss 04/27/13 - 08:21 pm
Q: Begs A: MatSu Valley

All through the MatSu you will find very depleted stocks on the smaller feeder streams, granted development did not help but wholesale poaching and overcrowding have done them in. When a riverfront property owner sells their property can they lie about the fishing or the lack of abundance to the prospective buyer? That is as good enough of a reason as any to be an in river user denier. The 1 out of 11 study is flawed, more like 4 out of 10 die. Mortality for a twice caught and released King...100%

potomac 04/29/13 - 09:04 am
thanks for setting the rcord straight

catch and release is not an option with a depleted run of any type of salmon period. Only fools like the above mentioned guide would fall in line with this type of logic, how common the theme is in the commercial guide fleet, thanks again Les, too bad money talks louder than common sense ....

cormit 04/30/13 - 01:37 pm
king salmon

Les Palmer is on the right track with this one. First of all .... king salmon are important to a lot of different people. When someone brings home a king salmon ..... regardless of how you caught it ...... puts it on the grill ..... and serves it to your family ...... you've just enjoyed the finest salmon on the planet.

That is ... always was .... and always will be most important and most respectful use of a king salmon. When you're harvesting your king ... and you are thrilled and excited with the process of catching it ..... nothing wrong with that either.

When we are misguided to believing that the thrill of catching, retrieving and then releasing this great fish ..... perhaps to be caught, retrieved and then released again by a different angler .... is somehow a more noble way to to appreciate this fish ...... we have just crossed a line that is both unethical and unsustainable.

Hook and release is the lowest, most disgusting and most disrespectful use of any fish resource ... especially our most noble king salmon.

One should not expect a 'pat on the back' from your community for digressing to this level of entertainment.

WRO 07/22/13 - 04:11 pm
C and R does work

First off Suss, your assumptions are flawed.

Here is a study from the kenai that addressed mortalit 1, 5 and spawning.

And here is one from Oregon that used collection sites up to 150 miles away to collect their data.

To think of one of the greatest sportfish on the planet as a strictly eating fish is short sighted at best and is a downer for the fecundity of the overall run. If 1 in 10 die or 1 in 20 die, its better that 100% dieing.

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