Fish Board refuses to reopen Cook Inlet for salmon

Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- The state Board of Fisheries has unanimously rejected a plea to allow commercial fishing for pink and chum salmon in Cook Inlet following this year's dismal sockeye run. The decision came at an emergency teleconference meeting Tuesday.

''They're worried about us harvesting a few cohos mixed in with these pinks,'' setnetter Jeff Beaudoin told a small crowd in Soldotna that listened to the board's deliberations by teleconference. ''But it's a double standard.''

The board had to decide whether the petition met criteria for an emergency, and if so, what action to take.

State biologists told the board they had few actual counts of pinks, chums or cohos, but available data suggest all three are returning in abundance. By Aug. 20, more than 1.2 million pinks had passed the Deshka River weir in the Susitna Valley, versus a season total of 542,000 in 1998. Given the number of pink salmon streams, they estimated the total run at 10 million to 15 million pinks.

Chum and silver runs also appear strong, but the late run of Kenai River silvers has not yet arrived, according to Jeff Fox, a Soldotna biologist with the department.

Board member Virgil Umphenour noted that before recent restrictions on commercial fishing, 98 percent or more of the commercial pink and chum catch came before Aug. 22, while just two-thirds or three-quarters of the commercial silver catch came by that date.

A commercial fishery now would target silvers, he said.

Board member Ed Dersham said the peak of the pink run had already passed, and the benefit of a commercial fishery would not justify the risk to the late run of Kenai River cohos, whose strength is not yet known.

The sockeye harvest generally provides the bulk of commercial fishing income. But this year just 1.3 million reds hit the nets, compared to an average since 1975 of nearly 3.5 million.

According to Fox, upper inlet fishermen earned just $8.2 million from this year's fishery. That makes this the worst year since 1960, when the fishery brought in $8.17 million in 1999 dollars.

Rep. Gail Phillips, who asked Gov. Tony Knowles' Disaster Policy Cabinet to investigate the situation, estimated that 80 percent of upper inlet fishermen failed even to meet operating expenses.

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