Rules make it impossible for state biologists to do their job correctly
Never before have I written a letter to the editor, but the comments printed on Aug. 2 by Don Johnson of Soldotna have got me steaming. How can one seemingly sane individual be so absolutely and completely misinformed?
1. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down the sports fishery for a few days on the Kenai. If the sockeye run is so weak that minimum escapement cannot be reached, then all fishers should contribute to the health of the run and not catch fish. The eastside setnets have been closed for the season, again. It is only reasonable that if these family-run businesses are being forced into bankruptcy to save the sockeye, then the sports fishermen from Florida and New York or even Kenai can give up a fish or two (or many!) to save the sockeye as well.
2. Mr. Johnson stated that the Board of Fish instituted the cutoff date of Aug. 9 for commercial fishers with the intent of allowing more sockeye escapement. This would be news to the Board of Fish. This closure was intended to protect the silver run, which the board had decided was in grave danger. There was not any emergency situation with the silver run, and the year 2000 saw the best silver run ever show up in the Kenai area! But the closure and its attached rules remain in effect. Why is that?
So, what was the actual intent of that Aug. 9 closure? It has nothing to do with sockeyes, as the main sockeye run is over by then, and only stragglers are caught. The most devastating part of that emergency action by the Board of Fish was the rule that only one emergency opening can be issued after Aug. 1. That effectively took away Fish and Game's ability to manage this fishery.
If the run is strong and needs to be harvested to protect the river, Fish and Game has its hands tied -- it can't manage the run on a biological basis after the first of August! Over-escapement is more devastating to the health of any salmon run than underescapement. If you doubt those words, just do a little research.
3. Mr. Johnson correctly states that the Board of Fisheries intended to reallocate sockeye to the sport fishermen and away from the commercial fisheries. Why is that? The Alaska state constitution specifically prohibits such reallocation of natural resources. So, why would a state board be so blatant about unconstitutional acts?
Why? Because it is headed by a man who has stated that his goal is to dismantle the commercial fishery. These actions are backed by Bob Penney who once said that his goal was to have all commercial buoys out of the inlet by the year 2000. He missed the goal, but not by much. And our dear governor is deeply in Bob Penney's pocket.
4. Why does Mr. Johnson continually portray the commercial fishery as the bad guy here? Has not the commercial fishery been a mainstay of the local economy for decades? The Kenai Peninsula has the highest concentration of permit holders in the state. We are hard working, family oriented and deeply committed to our way of life. How does that make us bad? We are, most of us, also sports fishermen who love to put a line in the water!
And when did it become the "Alaskan Way" that rich men have more right to their pleasure than we working stiffs have to make a living and support our families?
5. The eastside setnetters are in danger of extinction. That is just what Bob Penney has wanted for years, but why is it happening? We put our nets in the water only four days last summer. We were allowed to fish for five days this summer. How does this constitute what Mr. Johnson called "increased gillnet efforts"? Sorry, but that is a very decreased effort!
When I first started fishing here, we started in June and continued until we got tired of chipping ice off the nets in October. Sure, we didn't catch much in June or October, but we have had so much taken away from us. Now our entire industry is in jeopardy!
6. If you are looking to lay blame somewhere for the weak run, then look to the changes that have been made in recent years that have produced the problem. The increased minimum escapement is too high. The river can only handle so many fish, and pushing for this higher escapement is not helping the run. The dipnet fishery used to be set to occur only after that minimum escapement had been reached, now it goes seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the entire month. Those fish are taken as they enter the river and are not counted. Fish and Games "guesses" that about 100,00 fish were taken, but it does not know the actual number and will never know. The dipnet fishery is practically unregulated -- no enforcement at all -- no budget for enforcement! Anyone from anywhere in the United States can buy a dipnet and take as many fish as they want! Is this managing a fishery?
7. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is doing the very best it can. It is operating under conditions imposed by the board that effectively have the deparment in handcuffs. This fishery should be managed biologically, for maximum sustained yield. When Fish and Game was allowed to do that, the runs remained strong. They can be strong again, if the politicians will get out of the way.
The public has a responsibility to become informed, and the attitude of people like Mr. Johnson, who disseminate huge globs of misinformation, is irresponsible and self serving. Let Fish and Game do its job.
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