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Reader: 2006 red run -- what happened?

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Facts:

1. The sockeye salmon adults produce juveniles that return five years later and 650,000 is the minimum necessary escapement for the Kenai River.

2. The 2001 run, the brood year for 2006 was below expectations. Initial aggressive commercial fishing with a low escapement led to late closures. Finally the minimum of 650,036 escapement was reached on Aug. 13.

3. The Offshore Test Fish Index, which gives an indication of run strength started on July 1 this year at 10 and rose to 52 on July 8. It dropped into the 30s until July 14, when it reached 44 and then dropped back to 15 then 22 on July 16. These low figures warned that the 2006 run was in trouble like the 2001 run.

4. The total escapement in the Kenai River this year as of July 14 was only 40,481 compared to 62,476 on July 14, 2001, the poor brood year. For comparison in 2005, the total by July 14 was 258,642.

In spite of this evidence, “sound, precautionary, conservation management practices ... to assure sustained yields” (5 AAC 39.222) were not given priority and the first bad decision was made to permit the regular commercial opening on July 17. That commercial catch was 94,000. Had these sockeye not been caught, the second bad decision could have been avoided or at least postponed until there was more information.

On July 19, the commissioner closed the dipnetting, reduced the bag limit from three to one for sport fishing (closing it entirely on July 25) and eliminated commercial fishing except for the mouth of the Kasilof River. This decision had significant economic impact on the Soldotna-Kenai area and the borough sales taxes, which may lead to property tax increases. This decision became necessary because the total escapement as of July 19 was only 88,368.

The July 17 decision is evidence of commercial fish bias. This is confirmed by the comments of Jeff Fox, a commercial fish manager in the July 25 issue of the Peninsula Clarion. He continued the hoax of “over escapement” and blamed the poor run on, “Two (big fry years) are pretty much always followed by a bad return.”

The facts: the two prior year escapements to the brood year were respectively 803,410 in 1999 and in 2000, 600,000 was finally reached. Therefore, it could not have been the prior “over escapement” because there was none. This error was also repeated in the Peninsula Clarion editorial on July 28.

A possible conservative management solution might be limited commercial harvest, sportfishing and dipnetting until an initial escapement of something like 200,000 is reached to protect the runs.

I believe that the aggressive commercial fishing at the beginning of runs has caused a shifting of the salmon run timing, resulting in more fish later in the season. Time will tell, as we may see more sockeye salmon in August as we have the last three years.

Bill Wirin

Soldotna



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