Poor management will make Alaska follow California trend

Posted: Monday, July 26, 2004

I have lived in California my entire life and have seen the demise of salmonid stocks in California streams for over five decades. Steelhead, once prevalent in California, are now listed as an endangered species. Sockeye, pink and chum salmon are now extinct in California, as are brown bears. California Fish and Game estimates that over 2 billion king salmon entered the San Juaquin and Sacramento watersheds each year, only a century ago. Today, 2 million king salmon is a big run. Once prevalent, the sockeye, silver, pink and chum salmon are now extinct in this watershed.

Silver salmon are now on the endangered species list in many California and Oregon rivers. The trend is moving north, and this condition will exist in Alaska also if commercial fishing is not controlled. Already, rockfish restrictions have been put in place in California, as well as Alaska. The abalone is nearly extinct, and commercial fishermen have harvested themselves out of a job. The same is happening to the king crab, rockfish and shrimp fisheries in Alaska. What would happen if the halibut were to be over-harvested requiring additional commercial and sport restrictions? We need to control and restrict the commercial and sport harvest of these species to assure healthy propagation, and then restrict the harvest to assure adequate reproduction and a sustained annual harvest.

The Kasilof River is unique in that it sustains the northernmost natural run of steelhead on the North American Continent. I suspect that these fish may be genetically unique and they depend on the biomass in the river for their sustainence. More dead salmon in the river means more food to sustain the natural runs of steelhead, Dolly Varden and other species of salmon. Excess salmon in the river does not mean waste! It means a stronger future for the next generation of fish.

My advice: Don't let Alaska become like California regarding its fisheries. Think fish first and economy second. With adequate fish supplies, the economy will take care of itself. Since the Kenai Peninsula is a focus for tourism, it would make sense to me that East Cook Inlet be managed as a sportfishing-only area. Alaska is big, and Cook Inlet is a very small piece of the commercial fishing industry in the state. Balancing the tradeoffs between commercial and sport fishing interests, I believe the economy of the Kenai Peninsula would be better served by supporting the tourist industry and sport fishing. Commercial fishermen could be subsidized to fish outside of Cook Inlet, thus satisfying everyone's interest.

Philip R. Gantt, Kenai River Professional Guide Association Webmaster

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