There's a good way to manage the sockeye salmon stocks that return to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers each year. Just ask the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
All residents have to do is return their personal-use dipnet and set gillnet permits.
The deadline to return 2008 Upper Cook Inlet personal-use salmon permits was Aug. 15. However, even if residents didn't fish, the returned permits are important to the future management of the fishery. In fact, failure to do so could result in a $200 fine and a loss of fishing privileges.
Each year the department prints out 30,000 personal-use permits and distributes them to vendors throughout Southcentral Alaska, said Southcentral Fisheries Research coordinator Jack Erickson from the department's Anchorage office. Last year the department issued roughly 23,000 permits, but Erickson said department staff won't know how much the fishery grew this year until all the permits are turned in.
"The returned permits gives us an example of how many people participated and how many fish were harvested," he said. "It's quite a feat to make sure we get them out to all the vendors and to have them distributed."
Erickson said, likewise, permits turned in with no numbers on them don't help the department, either.
"Even the zeros are information we need to know, not just blank cards," he said. "That's how we evaluate the effectiveness of the program."
Tom Vania, the Cook Inlet regional management biologist for the Alaska sportfish division of Fish and Game, said the returned permits allow the department to analyze trends in fishing effort and harvest trends.
"You've always got to keep track of what the harvest levels are," he said. "The Board of Fisheries will use this information, as well, to decide whether they want to allow the harvests to grow or if they want to lower them or whether they think the harvest levels are doing just fine."
The fish bound for the Kenai River are allocated to different user groups from the commercial to sport and personal-use fishermen, as well as federal subsistence users, Vania said. If one group wants to harvest more fish, that amount will have to come away from another user group and it's up the fish board to make those decisions.
Rather than being allowed a certain amount of fish, personal-use fishermen are given a certain time frame in which they can fish, Vania said. On the Kenai River, that takes place from July 10 to 31 from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m., unless the run is very large.
"Catches will vary depending upon run strength to the river," Vania said. "If you have a lot of fish coming back and you have a lot of effort, then harvests could be high. If you have a year which you have a smaller return and the public hears that there's not a large return, some of them may just choose not to go."
The fishery appeared to be hit and miss this year, Vania said. Some people did very well, others didn't do quite so well, but the department won't know for sure how the overall fishery was until all the permits are in.
The department not only can fine and revoke the fishing privileges of those who haven't turned permits in, Vania said it keeps track of repeat offenders, as well. Participating in the fishery doesn't cost users more than $24 for a resident sportfishing license, but sending out reminders to folks who don't turn their permits in costs the department a lot of money and time.
"If everybody would turn those permits in in a timely fashion, then we wouldn't have to spend the extra money on mailing and time invested in having to get those mailings out," he said.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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