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Proposals to ponder

Posted: October 3, 2013 - 4:06pm

It’s that time again. This winter, the Alaska Board of Fisheries again meets to consider the fate of everyone who fishes in the Cook Inlet Watershed, whether for sport, personal use or for money.

Every third year, the board considers proposals to change the fishing regulations for Upper Cook Inlet and Lower Cook Inlet finfish. What those seven people decide this winter has a lot to do with how — and if — you’ll be able to fish next year.

Anyone can submit a proposal, so proposals tend to run from the well-thought-out to the ridiculous. No matter, the board is required to wade through them all.

Reading these proposals invariably raises my hackles, and this latest bunch ran true to form. As usual, everyone says their proposal is “for the good of the fish,” but most agendas are more for the proposer than the fish. Seems to me that there’s a definite need for a place on the proposal forms titled “Unstated agendas.”

The Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee’s Proposal 47 would require anglers to use barbless hooks for salmon fishing in freshwater Cook Inlet drainages. The group maintains that 150,000 of the 650,000 salmon released annually in these waters die from being hooked and released.

They may be close on the number released, but not on the mortality rate for all species of salmon released. They’re claiming that 23 percent die. That’s a long way from the 7 percent finding from the king salmon catch-and-release mortality study done on the Kenai River a few years back. I suspect they’re taking a “worst case” situation with one species, at one time and place, and applying it to all species, times, places and fisheries. They’ll have to explain their reasoning to the board, and back it up with more than conjecture.

Proposal 48, submitted by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, would “Designate all waters where catch- and-release fishing occurs on salmon as single, unbaited, barbless-hook waters.” This group’s Proposal 49 would “Establish criteria to designate waters in Cook Inlet as single, unbaited, barbless hooks waters,” and would require all hooks to be circle hooks with a gap between point and shank of no more than ½ inch. The proposers’ stated intention is “reduce the amount of mortality due to catch and release practices in Cook Inlet.”

Because at least some catch-and-release fishing occurs in all water, these seemingly noble proposals would ban bait, barbed hooks and multiple hooks in all waters, salt and fresh, all the time. What’s worse, they just might have some traction with the board. Barbed hooks have been banned in some Pacific Northwest fisheries in years past, so there’s a precedent.

Personally, I don’t think barbless hooks make a lot of difference in the number of fish caught. One benefit of barbless hooks is that it’s easier to sink a hook into a fish if the resistance of the barb isn’t there to overcome. Another benefit is that it’s easier to unhook fish that you intend to release, for whatever reason. Still another is that trout and other fish that are caught and released over and over suffer fewer injuries when barbless hooks are used.

As for circle hooks, I’ve never tried catching sockeyes with a circle hook, but it might cut down on the incidence of hooking fish elsewhere than in the mouth. I’m unaware of any studies that have been done with sockeyes and circle hooks. I have fished with bait for silvers using circle hooks, and found them effective, at least under a float. On the downside, a circle hook on at least some commonly used lures isn’t going to be very effective at hooking salmon.

Bottom line: When you combine the “single” with the “small,” “baitless” and “barbless, you’ve cut pretty deep into my ability to catch salmon with a hook and line. What’s more, these changes won’t make a significant difference in the catch-and-release mortality rate, the stated goal of these proposals.

That said, in the spirit of compromise, I’d go along with these proposals, providing that the commercial fishermen who wrote them will fish with half as much gill net. That way, only half as many salmon would fall out of their nets, dead and wasted. After all, it’s for the good of the fish.

More information: Visit boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov for 2013-2014 proposal book. You have until Nov. 19, 2013 to send in comments for Lower Cook Inlet proposals, and until Jan. 17, 2014 for Upper Cook Inlet proposals.

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

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