King bycatch in the Gulf is huge

Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011

With all the hub-bub about our general lack of king salmon in Cook Inlet, you would think we would be hearing all kinds of theoretical solutions from our many fisheries users groups, but I haven't been hearing any. Some will reference the growing commercial king salmon bycatch problems down south in the Alaska Gulf and Kodiak area but most just assume king salmon sport fishing happens to be down right now.

I was just thinking the other day about a grand solution to our growing king salmon problems. My solution would be for us to design a robo-salmon for Cook Inlet.

By a robo-salmon, I mean that we genetically design a king salmon which has the ability to sense gill nets and trawler fisheries sonar searches. We could raise these baby kings in a hatchery and sort them out by selecting only the ones which flee the area when a gill net is moved towards them or when they hear the piercing sonar searches of those menacing trawler fisheries. Once we have them all sorted out, we would then only keep the babies which try to evade the nets and the sonar.

We could give the other baby kings to the regular hatcheries and we could just herd our little robo-king salmon into a single hatchery tank and raise them until they could be released into Cook Inlet's many rivers and streams. Being genetically tuned to evade gill nets and sonars, these little guys would then need only watch out for all the other normal predators out there in the salt water. Problem solved right?

It used to be, back before 1980, that our southern commercial fisheries intercepted only a couple thousand king salmon annually. But now with the huge increased in gill net effort and massive increases in our trawler fisheries, our own ADF&G data shows these fisheries bycatching hundreds of thousands of king salmon. Most fishermen believe that the NPFMC should be keeping an eye on this king salmon bycatch problem, which is happening right at the front door to Cook Inlet. But all the NPFMC has done is to place onboard observers on some vessels in an attempt to slow down the slaughter.

So if you want to know where Cook Inlet king salmon are going, just call up your local ADF&G office and ask about king salmon bycatch numbers from down south. If you make the call, you will discover the huge king bycatch increase these fisheries have experienced within the last decade.

Don Johnson, Soldotna

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