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Another summer of discontent

Posted: June 20, 2013 - 3:56pm

One of the main reasons I live on the Kenai Peninsula is for the fishing. Like most of us who live here, I’m less than content when the fishing isn’t good.

In mid-May, seeing that only a dribble of kings were coming into the Kenai River, the Department of Fish and Game closed the river to the harvest of king salmon. That was good, but they left it open to catch-and-release fishing for kings, which was bad. Their stated reason was to provide more sport-fishing opportunity, but the real reason they do this is purely economical. Alaska’s outrageously over-capitalized sport-fishing industry, using the Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game to make catch-and-release of salmon state policy, brought us to this level, where we allow anglers to play with salmon that aren’t returning in large enough numbers to sustain their populations.

If I were to tell you that the state was proposing to make it legal for hunters on all-terrain vehicles to lasso moose and caribou, wrestle them to a standstill, take a couple of “trophy” photos and let the animals go, you’d probably consider the idea unethical, outrageous, unthinkable. Yet, that’s pretty much what anglers do when they catch and release fish just for the fun of it. Whether it’s a moose or a king salmon, the animal is fighting for its life. By even the most warped definition of the word, is this “sporting”? We don’t even know why king salmon are scarce, and yet we subject them to abuse and cause them stress. How do we justify this in times of scarcity?

Every year since the 1970s, I’ve spent many days fishing for king and silver salmon on the Kenai River. Due to last year’s pitiful runs, I didn’t fish the Kenai for kings at all. I tried for silvers three times, and my total catch was a few tired pink salmon and one small silver.

This year’s fishing looks even worse. As of June 13, the escapement estimate for early-run Kenai River kings was only 27 percent of last year’s dismal count. Only an estimated 795 king salmon had gone upstream to spawn. Because it’s unlikely that enough kings will enter the river by June 30 to reach the escapement goal, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an Emergency Order that closes the Kenai River to king salmon fishing from June 20-June 30. Upstream from a regulatory marker located 300 yards downstream from Slikok Creek, the Kenai is closed to king salmon fishing through July 14. The so-called late run of Kenai River king salmon, set to begin July 1, is also predicted to be a poor run. The outlook is grim for future years, given the depressed returns.

Some people like to blame the poor king salmon returns on something tangible, such as trawler by-catch — mainly kings caught incidentally by trawlers fishing for pollock. Others point at mismanagement by the Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game. The real cause of whatever is impacting state-wide king returns is probably so complex and ever-changing that it will never be found. Even if scientists can somehow determine the cause, it’s not realistic to think they’ll be able to do anything about it.

On another issue, with salmon being such a sensitive issue locally, you might think we’d have model laws to protect them. Instead, we have the same old objections by property owners and land developers that eventually led to failures and outright extinctions of salmon runs throughout the Pacific Northwest. One good thing on this front: On Tuesday of this week, the Borough Assembly voted 6-3 against an ordinance that would have repealed the existing ordinance. The assembly also introduced Ordinance 2013-18, which would amend certain parts of the existing ordinance. I’m wondering if we’ll ever have a version of an anadromous waters protection ordinance that will stand up to so much selfish, mule-headed opposition by property owners. If we can’t have good salmon habitat here, where salmon are so key to why we’re here at all, can it exist anywhere?

I have yet to fish the Kenai this year. A large part of my reason for loving this place is gone, and no one knows why or for how long. It’s not without good reason that I’m discontented. On the bright side, I have plenty of company.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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northernlights
206
Points
northernlights 06/22/13 - 09:36 am
9
0

Well said

For those of us to really care about our rivers and fish, we have been saying the same thing. Greed is never satisfied, always hungry for more at any expense. When the river is finally fished out and they earned their money, off to another area to plunder. Catch n release, boy you made it so clear on how ridiculous it is. No they would never hear of it if we did that to our moose etc. Well, I hope we are getting closer to protecting what rightly belongs here. Eventually they may think they should change the rule of catch n release. Now its off to help protect our river banks against those who thrash the heck out of them. I'm proud to be a volunteer to help protect and keep our river banks clean.

Suss
2337
Points
Suss 06/22/13 - 10:46 am
8
0

Playing with your food

Please remember your parent's admonition "don't play with your food". The kill factor to catch and release has been a major lie to say the mortality rates were as low as has been reported. Shame on them.

kenai123
1220
Points
kenai123 06/22/13 - 04:20 pm
4
4

Juvenal kings are starving to death

You got that right, commercially catch them all, sell them and then commercially off to plunder somewhere else! Where will the next target be Bristol Bay? The west coast down south? The Arctic? The Bering? Whatever!

It is not about hook & release mortality, it is about what our juvenal kings feed on out in the ocean. They feed on crab just like the sockeyes but they have to feed on the older crab larvae which survive the sockeye feeding. Trouble is there are so many sockeyes and so much fisheries mismanagement that there isn't any older or larger crab larvae left, 98% removed. Juvenal kings are starving to death because of ADF&G fisheries mismanagement.

1950 lower 48 east coast commercial fisheries caught so many cod that they caused their cod fisheries collapse by 1970. 1930 depression era farmers plowed up the grassy prairies but caused The Great Dust Bowl. World War 2 era dam builders produced cheap electricity but killed most of their salmon. The lower 48 west coast timber industry cut so many trees that they eroded and silted their river thus killing most of their salmon. 1990 lower 48 west coast commercial salmon fisheries caught so many salmon that they help cause their salmon fisheries collapse by 2000. Before 1980 Florida had a massive tarpon resource but they allowed excess commercial harvest of tarpon prey like blue crab, pink shrimp and toadfish, thus causing their tarpon to collapse by 1990. Many claimed these losses were the result of "a natural cycle". Excess commercial harvest has depleted Alaska's herring, crab and now king salmon resources. Our ADF&G is claiming "a natural low abundance" but we are compelled to ask if this is in fact "a natural cycle" or the direct results of the same excessive commercial activities and mis-management which has plagued our past?

s2wheel
53
Points
s2wheel 06/22/13 - 08:13 pm
0
1

I agree with all that was

I agree with all that was posted here, I do have a question, since commercial was brought up, there Was an emergency order closing down PU set net fishing at kasilof, so why are the commercial guys fishing? The order stated that if they could save just a handful of kings then the closer would be warranted, so how many handfuls are the commercial guys getting. I agree that catch and release is wrong, I have seen way to many fish damaged to a point that they die before spawning,to my point of view it is like molesting the fish. On the other hand if I was to see a tourist or anybody else for that matter try to rope a moose or caribou I would have to get my camera out,and I would probably put it on YouTube. When I was a child I saw a man try to bulldog a caribou, when all was done the man was in worse shape than the animal.

Sense In Alaska
17
Points
Sense In Alaska 06/23/13 - 10:07 am
9
0

Catch and release is bad for the resource.

I couldn't agree with you more Les. Catch and release is killing our kings. That practice is playing the fish to death.This should have not been allowed to happen, nor should it continue. Hopefully people will start realizing this and push for it to stop.
I hold KRSA largely responsible as they don't seem to care about the long term health of the kenai or the local people. I have watched them in action at the BOF for years. It's all about guide greed...

potomac
165
Points
potomac 06/23/13 - 09:12 pm
4
0

thanks again Les

Ok , now for all you guides out there, put on your big boy pants and quit fishing for kings. All of you, and then we can see in a few year who to blame, it is obvious king fishing is in the past for the Kenai Pen and else where, so take one part out of the mix at a time over several years we will quit the fish fight and maybe see who or where this came from,,,I know good luck.....when the last king is clubed they will quit fighting

Seafarer
1137
Points
Seafarer 06/24/13 - 11:02 am
1
0

Build a King Hatchery

Build a King Hatchery and besides shoring up the Kenai runs, make a huge pool, put all the guides in it, and let the stupid touristas snag, hook, release to their hearts content. That'll keep `em off the banks! Now that's true Combat Fishing! The Kenai has too many guides. Les is exactly right.

s2wheel
53
Points
s2wheel 06/24/13 - 12:21 pm
2
2

Don't you guys get it, it's

Don't you guys get it, it's not just guild fishing that is catching the kings it's locals too.look at the population increase in the last twenty years, locals do go down and fish the rivers not to mention the anchorage weekend folks,we have trawlers out intersecting the kings and calling it by-catch,we have commercial along the beaches catching them they sure are not throwing them back,there are the Ninilchik natives putting there nets next to Ninilchik and deep creek rivers at the middle to end of may, the only salmon running then is kings. Not only is the kings disappearing but other species are dropping ,the reds running the kenai and kasilof have dropped over the last 10 to 15 years,(check the archives on the run numbers), the razor clams on our beaches are getting scarcer, this year they had to lower the limit on them, the fish and game try to make it into something scientific, but when we have low tides there are thousands of people on our beaches and most are from anchorage as are the people coming down on memorial weekend to fish the rivers,so don't just blame the guilds.

kenai-king
214
Points
kenai-king 06/25/13 - 09:58 am
4
1

Thanks Les I agree with you it is all Greed

You don't need to be a Rocket Scientist to figure out what happened here. Next it will be the Silvers because they have to make their money somewhere and it doesn't matter if they kill the last one as long as I get it. It's time to let it go, either kill them all or let them alone for 7 years. But oh too many fish will spawn what a crock of sh*#t. I guess that is why the Salmon died off a hundred years ago because too many fish spawned.

kenai123
1220
Points
kenai123 06/26/13 - 05:02 am
1
4

juvenal king salmon are starving to death

Watching our ADF&G try to fix our saltwater king salmon problems by restricting freshwater fisheries is like watching someone try to rewind a DVD, thinking that it's a VHS tape.
They keep on pressing that VHS rewind button over and over but it's not connected to anything so there's no way it can work. Our juvenal king salmon are starving to death in the ocean because we have enhanced way to many sockeye runs for commercial fisheries profits and reduced our freshwater salmon spawning and rotting which has reduced our water nitrogen levels, thus disrupting the beginning of the marine food chain. That food web disruption along with excess commercial crab harvest has reduce half inch crab larvae down 98% from what it used to be. Juvenal kings feed exclusively on (older) half inch crab larvae. Sockeye salmon feed exclusively on (younger) quarter inch crab larvae.

Excess commercial crab fishing, excess sockeye enhancement and reduced salmon spawning escapements have resulted in a 98% reduction in saltwater juvenal king salmon feed. Thus we have our ADF&G attempting to fix a saltwater king problem with freshwater fisheries restrictions. The ADF&G is that confused guy standing there pressing a VHS rewind button over and over, on a DVD player, while he just can't understand why it worked before but not now.

Old ADF&G fisheries management solutions cannot solve our current king salmon problems because it is those past management solutions which have caused todays king problems. Our ADF&G needs to take a fresh management look at the king problem and then use fresh management solutions. Old management solutions will not fix this king problem.
Our juvenal kings are starving to death.

kenai123
1220
Points
kenai123 06/26/13 - 05:14 am
1
2

DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY KINGS ARE SCARCE?

"We don’t even know why king salmon are scarce, and yet we subject them to abuse and cause them stress. How do we justify this in times of scarcity?"

Gee Les, you have people tying to tell you why kings are scarce but you don't want to listen. Why not do a story about how our juvenal kings are starving in the saltwater because of ADF&G fisheries mis-management? We will never know what is wrong with our kings if people like you keep on avoiding speaking about our current fisheries mis-management.

pengy
243
Points
pengy 06/26/13 - 04:37 pm
0
2

hypocrisy

Les, let me ask you this. Suppose you're fishing kings late July on the Kenai and you hook a king and fight it for 20 minutes. When you get it in the net you see it's fire engine red and close to spawning. In your world you would keep that fish because it's not ethical to "play with your food." Yeah, right. Face it, catch and release fishing is accepted worldwide and is an accepted management tool in all U.S. states.

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 06/26/13 - 05:42 pm
1
0

Extremely Simple

6/26/13 This is extremely Simple :
Too many People & NOT enough Fish !

NONE repeat NONE of the Fishing User Groups can agree on anything. No Compromise, No Agreements, No common understanding, No Leadership.

All user groups waste all of their precious Time BackStabbiing each other & assigning Blame. This has been going on for over 40 years & just gets worse each season.

SPW in Sloooooowdotna

bigtalkahh
184
Points
bigtalkahh 06/27/13 - 10:17 am
0
0

KRSMA is all about GREED

Out of all the seats occupied by agencies and user groups on the Kenai River Special Management Area board, only one does not own or manage a river natural resource. The rest are there for themselves with very little concern for the health of the river itself. The AK Dept. of Environmental Conservation has a seat for Water Quality issues. They try to keep the river clean and as natural as they can without owning any of it. The rest, including AK Parks and Rec, are there for themselves. They turn a blind eye and deaf ear to anything counter to what they want for themselves. This really is simple, folks. Everyone needs to get on the same page and manage for the resource and forget about economics. I mean totally forget about economics. Money is clearly the downfall of our fisheries and the general health of the Kenai River. Fifteen years ago, the ADEC rep on the KARSMA board made several statements concerning greed and economic management decision. He was told that all he had to offer were Draconian Concepts and was soon replaced by someone from Anchorage who had no love or real concern for the Kenai River economic/political problems. If they listened to the local rep and managed for the resource, things would be a lot better on our river today. GREED has brought us to where we are today. A sad state of affairs that have led to the decimation of our river.

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