Commentary

The dying Kenai kings

Man_and_woman_fishing_with_lage_king_salmon_caught

Anglers with a Kenai River king from the days when monster fish ruled/USFWS via Wikimedia commons

UPDATED – May 20, 2016

Seven out of every 11 Kenai River late-run king salmon killed last year died in gillnets as what was once the most valuable sport fishery in Alaska continued to spiral downward, according to data from the state of Alaska.

Licensing numbers from the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation now point to what can only be called the economic collapse of in-river tourism businesses built around what was once one of the most famous freshwater fisheries in the world. Almost 40 percent of the fishing guides licensed to run powerboats on the Kenai nine years ago are gone.

The business body count is easily tallied. The economic loss is harder to quantify. A nearly decade old study conducted for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 2007 calculated that the average guided, nonresident angler spent $770 per day to fish Kenai. 

Last year, according to Fish and Game statistics, there were some 456,000 angler-days of effort put into the in-river fisheries. An angler-day is one angler fishing one day. About 28 percent of the angler days came from guided anglers.

Given these numbers, one can estimate close to 128,000 guided anglers fished a day on the river. Extrapolating from the 2007 study, that number of anglers would create a fishery worth up to $98 million, depending on whether the guided anglers were non-resident or residents, who spend slightly less on fishing trips.

If a 40 percent drop in the number of guides corresponded to a 40 percent drop in business, the loss on $98 million would come to about $39 million. But the situation is nowhere that simple, starting with the fact that there are serious questions as to whether the Kenai is worth $770 per day to anglers anymore.

A move to less-valuable salmon

As the Peninsula Clarion newspaper in Kenai first noted a more than a year ago, surviving Kenai sport  fishing businesses have increasingly shifted some of their marketing from trophy king salmon to cooler-filling sockeye salmon in an effort to survive. As a tourist attraction, however, sockeye are far less valuable than kings.

“It’s hard to quantify, but there’s definitely a loss of revenue,”  long time Kenai guide Mike Fenton said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “There is a financial hit. You’re going to lose a percentage.”

Fenton had limited time for talk because he was at work at his second job necessary to pay his bills in the winter. Kenai guiding might look like a pleasant way to make a living, but almost no one can make a living guiding on the Kenai these days.

To try to cover summer losses associated with the crash in a king fishery that once boasted a bounty of 60- to 80-pound salmon-of-a-lifetime, many  Kenai guides have taken to helping clients catch plentiful 6- to 8-pound sockeye.

Others have shifted to drift-boat guiding for rainbow trout. While the number of guides licensed to use powerboats, the mainstay of the king salmon fishery, is down 40 percent, the overall number of guides is down only 35 percent due to a shift to drift. The number of drifts guides on the river in 2015 was actually up 41 percent from the 1985-1995 average.

As guide businesses have spread out along the river to focus on fish other than kings, angler-days spent by residents and non-residents have increased by about 10 percent over the past decades, according to Fish and Game figures, and the non-resident catch of sockeye by guided anglers has mushroomed. State numbers show a 131 percent increase from a catch of 16,620 in 2007 to 38,501 in 2014. Over the same time period, the unguided harvest — which includes both residents Alaskans and non-resident without guides — rose only 17 percent.

Fewer guides putting more non-resident anglers on the river in an effort to survive isn’t the best economic model, Fenton admitted, and it comes with some problems. A lot of the sockeye guides take people ashore to fish, he said, and they then compete for space with both Alaska residents and unguided non-resident.

The result is an increase in competition even as the overall economic value of the Kenai fishery declines.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said.

Small businesses suffer

The people paying the highest price for these changes would appear to be small Alaska businessmen and women. Total Kenai guide permits issued to residents have fallen 31 percent from a high of 322 in the mid-2000s to 222 last year. This was the lowest number of Alaskans working on the river in two decades. Alaska-based guides still out number non-resident guides two to one, but they used to out number non-resident three to one.

Which guides – resident or non-resident – benefit the Kenai community more is hard to say. From a purely economic standpoint, guides who open lodges for the summer and mothball them for the winter pay the same property taxes as resident guides, but demand nothing in terms of such costly public services as schools for their kids and winter snow plowing.

Whether this is good or bad is a judgement value hard to sort out purely with numbers. The economic pluses and minuses of seasonal tourism jobs are as tangled as the economic pluses and minuses of seasonal commercial fishing jobs, but at the end of the day all have a common denominator: money.

Fish and Game is now planning a new study to try to determine the importance of angler money to Southcentral Alaska and Kenai Peninsula economies. The vast majority of Kenai River anglers are non-Kenai Peninsula residents, and where anglers come from plays a direct role in how much money they leave on the Peninsula, according to the 2007 economic study.

It found that on average, unguided Alaska residents – most likely people from Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna valley – spent on average about $90 per day to fish the Kenai. That was significantly less than half of the $210 spent by the average unguided non-resident coming to the Kenai from elsewhere in the world.

Alaska residents who went to the Kenai to fish with a guide in 2007 spent more – $510 on average – but the majority of those anglers were pursuing kings. The average, guided non-resident spent the most that year – a whopping $770 on average – but again that number was heavily weighted toward fishing trips for trophy kings.

Everyone involved in the Kenai tourism business is confident the value of a guided angler day is going to drop significantly when the  state re-examines angler spending habits in the new, king-short world.

“We’re losing a lot of money,” said Kenai River Sportfishing Association director Ricky Gease. Gease has watched the fisheries on the Kenai evolve for years and wonders where the fishing-dependent tourism economy of the Peninsula is headed at a time when the state as a whole is facing huge economic problems due to a global slump in oil prices.

The site of Alaska’s first big oil boom, the Kenai’s value as an oil province has been fading for decades although it has seen a resurgence in the search for natural gas to fuel Anchorage. Still, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District reported jobs losses in construction, and oil and gas last year, but said tourism was generally strong.

Tourism ambivalence

Tourism is the healthiest segment of the Alaska economy overall, but all regions of the state don’t see the same benefits. And the Peninsula, which is on summer weekends invaded by hordes of Alaskans fleeing the state’s largest city, has something of a strained relationship with tourism.

It likes and needs tourist dollars. A study by the University of Washington found the local sales tax collected at a Fred Meyer store built not far from the Kenai River in Soldotna in 1994 provides 48 percent of the revenue to help run that city. It has been estimated that tourist spending accounts for up to a third of that sales tax money. Often seemingly deserted in winter, the 158,000-square foot Freddie’s is as packed as Macy’s on sale day for most of the summer.

But Peninsula residents aren’t always happy about sharing their little slice of paradise with summer visitors. Some have joked for years about “blowing the bridges” on the  Sterling Highway to stop the weekend invasions of anglers and dipnetters from Alaska’s urban heartland to the north. How much this has influenced the politics of Kenai salmon management is unclear.

Gease, Fenton and others praise Alaska Fish and Game for decades of generally sound biological management of the state’s salmon resources, but sometimes question the state’s economic management of Kenai fisheries.

Almost 65 percent of the kings caught on the Kenai last year were caught in the commercial fishery where they were worth an average of $2.05 per pound to commercial fisherman, according to Fish and Game. A 40-pound king, a respectable catch for the Kenai these days, would be worth $82 there, or about a tenth of what a nonresident, guided anglers would pay simply for the chance to catch one of those fish in the river.

Getting a king salmon past nets and into the river, however, presents problems. Some of those problems are technical, but the biggest ones are political.

Commercial fishing interests which have long dominated salmon management in the Cook Inlet region are reluctant to modify the ways in which they fish, and they have engaged in a decades long war with sport fishing interests over who gets to catch what Inlet salmon and how much.

As a practical business matter, it is in the interest of commercial fishermen to destroy the Kenai late-run king salmon sport fishery to eliminate a king salmon by-catch problem that complicates the harvest of sockeye salmon — the mainstay of the commercial fishery.

Unguided anglers are a silent majority easily overlooked in the highly political process of Alaska salmon allocation, but fishing guides – like commercial fishermen – have economic skin in the game and thus become politically involved when the state Board of Fisheries sets about deciding catch regulations.

Kill the guides

From the standpoint of commercial interests, the politics of the situation are simple: The fewer the king-salmon guides, the smaller the political opposition for commercial fishing interests trying to hang onto a harvest of about 80 percent of all Inlet salmon. The commercial fishermen are only looking out for their self interests, having found themselves in a unique struggle since shortly after Alaska voters amended the state constitution in 1973 to allow the Legislature to create the Limited Entry Act.

Limited Entry fixed the number of commercial fishermen allowed to work in Alaska in an effort to control competition and ensure they could all make a living by working summers in the commercial fishing business. And most places in the state, the law worked exactly as intended.

But in Cook Inlet, commercial fishermen found themselves fighting recreational anglers for fish as the population of the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs grew from a combined total of approximately 175,000 people in 1975 to 400,000 or more today.

At the same time, tourism on the Kenai was on the upswing, as residents there looked for new business opportunities, and Alaska salmon prices were falling as the wild fish which once dominated the market gave way to farmed fish. In a follow-up to Limited Entry, salmon farming was banned in Alaska in 1989 in part to protect Alaska salmon from competition from farmed fish.

That plan failed miserably. Salmon farms now provide about 70 percent of the fish for global consumption despite years of record harvests of salmon in Alaska. Globally, a significant portion of the wild salmon come from Alaska, but the 49th state is now a small player in the global salmon market.

In that regard, commercial salmon fishermen are like Alaska oil producers. Global markets control the price of their product no matter how little or how much they produce.

Faced with this sort of market problem, Inlet commercial fisherman have fought hard to hang onto every salmon they can get. As a result, the Alaska Board of Fisheries and state fisheries managers have struggled to come up with fishing schemes that would put the maximum number of king salmon in the Kenai while maintaining a high commercial harvest of sockeyes.

Their plans haven’t worked so well.

Biggest losers

With most of the biologically allowable harvest of kings going into commercial nets in Cook Inlet, tourism businesses built around the once flourishing king salmon fishery in the river have struggled and died. Anglers harvested 8,560 of the big fish in the Kenai in 2007. In 2015, the entire king salmon harvest — the 7,549 kings reported caught in commercial nets  plus an in-river harvest estimated at 4,093 fish — was about the same.

Kenai anglers with decades of experience on the river, along with older fishing guides, have been talking for years about the death of the late-run sport fishery for kings. The data are now proving them out.

But not only are tourism businesses built around the king salmon sport fishery disappearing as a result of weak runs and state harvest schemes. The once-world-famous return of monster kings is itself disappearing for reasons that are far less clear.

Long gone are the glory years of the fishery that followed in the wake of the late Les Anderson’s 97 1/4-pound, world-record king in 1985. Over the course of the next decade, a lot of Alaskans and possibly even more tourists descended on the river in the quest to catch the first 100-pounder on rod and reel. Tourism boomed, but no one ever caught the mythical salmonid version of Moby Dick.

And now the quest for a 100 pounder seems a distance dream. Not only have the early and late runs of Kenai kings decreased in number in the past decade, the fish themselves have gotten smaller despite a change in sport fishing regulations designed to protect the biggest of the big fish.

Biologists once suspected there might genetic implications to the removal of big kings from the gene pool. So the state in 2003  imposed a slot limit on the early run requiring anglers to release fish between 40 and 55 inches. Those fish weigh somewhere from 35 to 80 pounds.

Since the regulation was implemented, there have been no reports of early-run fish over 80 pounds being caught, and the early run has continued to get weaker and smaller despite closures of both the sport and commercial fisheries.

Shrunken fishery, shrunken fish

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the nearly 2-million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, has been operating weirs on the Killey and Funny rivers, two major spawning tributaries of the Kenai, to gather age and size data on returning early-run fish for several years now.

What they’ve found is that the early kings are generally small, averaging only about 24 inches and reaching a maximum of only about 39 inches.

Some scientists suspect food shortages in the ocean are causing reductions in both size and numbers. There has been increasing discussion about the possibility the natural carrying capacity of the North Pacific Ocean has been exceeded by the introduction of hundreds of millions of juvenile hatchery fish.

“….Several lines of evidence indicate that (hatchery) pink salmon… are having a large top-down influence on other salmon species, other upper trophic level pelagic species, plankton standing stocks, and by inference, the functioning of the open-ocean eco-system,” Alan Springer and Gus van Vliet of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks warned in a paper published three years ago.

They joined other scientists in cautioning that hatcheries in Japan, Alaska, and now Russian are pumping so many fish into the North Pacific that the range for salmon might be overgrazed, leading to fewer and smaller wild fish. If that theory is correct, the demise of the once world-famous Kenai king salmon fishery might not be a temporary problem as most in Alaska would prefer to believe.

Smallish Kenai kings might be the new norm, and that alone could mean the sport fishing businesses that once flourished on the Peninsula will never return. It could mean the fabled Kenai kings – the 60-pound and larger fish that seemed almost common at one time – are the stuff of history.

And the demise of what “Field and Stream” magazine in 2004 concluded was the number one angling experience in North America might have been killed off not by the bycatch of kings in commercial sockeye nets, or the Cook Inlet fish wars, but by the rise of the hatcheries the state of Alaska supported in an effort to boost commercial fisheries that now have trouble competing with cheaper farmed fish in global markets.

The answer to soft prices, in the eyes of some commercial fishermen, has been to produce ever more hatchery fish. The state that banned farmed fish supposedly because of concerns about what farmed fish could do to the environment if they go out of their pens is now  world leader in dumping hatchery fish into the ocean.

The results have been impressive. There is no denying that.  A third of the 2015 commercial harvest of salmon of 264 million fish was made up of hatchery stock. Alaska these days is producing more salmon than ever, but there is a question as to whether they are the right salmon.

It is possible that a few salmon worth a lot could be more valuable to the state economy than a lot of salmon worth little. But the 49th state, which has a commendable record for wisely managing its salmon and maximizing the return for commercial fishermen, has never given much attention to how to maximize the economic value of those same resources.

Fisheries managers talk a lot about maximum sustained yield, a biological concept. They have never been heard to discuss maximum economic yield. As a result, a lot of the economic value of the Kenai appears to have bled away as Kenai king salmon have declined.

The estimated value of those 7,549 Kenai kings reported caught in commercial nets in Cook Inlet last year? About $248,000, or about what the Kenai economy would have expected to gain from 46 guided, king-salmon anglers spending a week each fishing the Kenai in 2007.

CORRECTION: This story was corrected on May 20, 2016. The late-run Chinook sport catch was increased to 4,093 and relinked to the Alaska Deapartment of Fish and Game website to replace an 1,100 fish count and link that came from another Alaska publication.

 

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42 replies »

  1. Criag, I will say you can write well, you just skew the facts halfway across alaska while doing it. So I have one question for you. Why did our salmon runs rebound so dramatically in the early 80’s, which means something must have changed mid 70’s?. Long before heavy sport fishing became a factor.

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    • I was just a kid in high school but do remember that all the west side was shut down for several years because of over harvest. Rivers up north re-opened in the late 70s. Ps there were tons of fish in river, then slowly we decided to have excapment goals and we worked that number right to the minimum Now what I see is lack of fish both north and south. Does anyone remember the fish wheel concept that bob penny talked about in the 80s.??? To long to right it all out, bottom line all Kings move in river, reds get pulled from large fish wheel with large holding pens. Comerical fisherman/ beach sites get a five year avg on there catch. It’s a win win, sorry for being short. I’m sure this will start a fire. Lol

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  2. Cook Inlet commercial fishermen pay a tax to support the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA). The efforts of CIAA improve the fishing for everyone who fishes Salmon in the Cook Inlet area. Shouldn’t all (Sport, Commercial, Personal Use) fishermen pay to support CIAA.

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  3. The set net industry has been around for over a hundred years. How long has the guided industry been around? When did the Kings start to suffer? It’s not a coincidence that the guide boom is the same as the king bust. But I can’t stand to have a bigot think I want to destroy the late run for my personal gain. I will never forget catching my first king on the Kenai and I hope my kids and grand kids will get to do the same.

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    • Dan: When did the kings start to suffer is a question best answered with another question: which time? King runs Cook Inlet wide were seriously depressed in the 1960s and 1970s due to largely uncontrolled commercial fishing on mixed stocks. Nobody paid much attention to bycatch of anything in those days. The results were pretty obvious. The Deshka had a Chinook escapement of 131 fish in 1963; the Little Su an escapement of 30 in 1970. These were unusually bad, but not far out of line with average years. It was grim. Can you imagine the reaction these days if only 131 kings made it back to the Deshka? Some of the old data is here. It’s worth a look: http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/fedaidpdfs/Fds97-08.pdf The glass today leans way more toward half full than half empty despite whatever problems we might have. And guiding? I’d guess that’s been an industry in Alaska since the day after the first Native guy met the first white guy lost in the wilderness and decided to help him out for trade for something.

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  4. I’ll keep this simple for commercial guys, IT’S YOUR DAMN NETS STUPID. When I first arrived here thirty years ago
    my dad flew up from Florida and we went to Homer. We stopped on an overlook somewhere close to Ninilchick and couldn’t believe all the nets in the water. Having witnessed this while growing up in Florida we knew it was a matter of time before this fishery would suffer the same consequences. I live on the Little Susitna and we get very few kings
    or silvers anymore. You can’t do this type of damage to a fishery even by snagging your fish.

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  5. Craig, I see you have not had the time to correct your story. Unfortunate that you apparently do not give a rat’s ass about responsible journalism.

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    • Todd: Well actually, it is corrected. I happened to be on the road for a couple days, and this is unfortunately a one-person operation. I appreciate your giving me a heads-up on the under-reported sport catch. I took the number from another Alaska publication when I clearly should have dug it out of ADF&G files. My mistake. The main points of the story, however, don’t change. We’re killing a lot of kings in ESSN that would be far more valuable to the Kenai economy in the river. It seems senseless to pursue anymore discussion with you on this since you want to argue apples and oranges. Yes, there were a fair number of kings caught elsewhere in Southcentral Alaska last year and in Southeast, too, and even in British Columbia. None of that has anything to do with the economics of the Kenai or at least not in a positive way. It might actually be costing the Peninsula as fishing effort shifts to where the odds of catching a king are better. Regardless, the number of dead fish in those are other areas is irrelevant. One could compare the 44,000 king sport catch for all of Cook Inlet to the 474,000 commercial catch of kings in Alaska, too, I guess, to somehow suggest Mat-Su anglers are getting ripped off. But that would be disingenuous, so I didn’t and won’t. And one can argue some of the kings dead in the ESSN weren’t Kenai fish, too, but to get apples to apples in a comparison there we’d have to try to figure out how many of the fish caught in the Kenai itself were actually Kenai fish, because we know some Susitna drainage kings stray in there as well as get caught in ESSN. We also know from the 2013 Kintama acoustic study in 2013 that there is good reason to believe in a separation between Cook Inlet Chinook and sockeye with the latter at average depths of 1.8M (5 feet) and the former at 4.85 meters (15 feet) in the ESSN fishery. https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/regulations/regprocess/fisheriesboard/pdfs/2013-2014/uci/uci_pc_264-275.pdf And yet there has been no real attempt made to take advantage of this separation to reduce bycatch because as far as i can tell from all your comments here you don’t care about bycatch. Does that make you a “selfish commie,” which is by the way your self reference not a statement of mine? Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know you from Adam. I do know all animals are selfish; there is an evolutionary imperative to try to get fat. It would be nice to see some people rise above that in the interest of the maximum economic return for their community as a whole. But I realize that’s a lot to ask.

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      • Craig – Interesting that you speak of comparing apples to oranges when you still compare every king caught in ESSN nets to sport harvest of Kenai kings. We don’t have to argue whether or not that is accurate – ADFG has genetic reports which show that it is not. They sampled a very large % of reported ESSN harvest over the last few years, and there is no reason to think that ESSN fishermen are any more or less honest about reporting their harvest than other fishermen, is there?

        http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/FDS16-16.pdf

        Only about 75% of the Kings caught in ESSN nets are headed for the Kenai, and NONE of them are bycatch. You seem to care about the proper use of terms, so important to note that you are using the term “bycatch” inappropriately. These are legally harvested fish which are quite valuable. Dockside price for my Kings was over $4.00 a pound last year, and their average weight was only around 20lb. From a sustainability standpoint, the selectivity of nets towards smaller, younger kings helps offset the inriver harvest selectivity towards larger, older fish – leading to a more diversified harvest across the age/sex range of the late run. ADFG data will verify this. It is possibly one reason that the late run Kenai kings are much healthier than the early run (trib spawners), which has been selectively harvested exclusively inriver for decades and is now made up of approximately 80% males and 65% jacks. This run is much worse off than the late run, despite negligible gillnet harvest.

        Comparing Cook Inlet commercial harvest to sport catch of the same is not apples and oranges. My point was to show that there is lots of sport opportunity for King salmon across Southcentral, and plenty of opportunity for Kenai based guided fishing businesses despite recent low abundance of Kenai kings.

        Yes, Kings caught in the Kenai inriver fishery are very valuable. There is nothing to suggest that value would offset the loss of other fisheries eliminated to increase the number of kings availible for harvest inriver – habitat concerns aside. More is not always better, and it is hard to measure the strength which diversity provides. BTW, the economic report you are basing much of your theory on was shown to have some pretty misleading and assumptive data, same as the Kintama report you referenced, as pointed out in this ADFG report titled “Oversimplification of complex harvest modeling issues outlined in Welch et al. (2014)” – otherwise known as the Kintama study:

        http://animalbiotelemetry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40317-015-0027-x

        Small details – like the fact that most of Welch’s work was done outside the ESSN fishery boundaries – are very important. That median king depth of 15 feet which you quoted is likely deeper than the mean depth of the entire ESSN fishery!

        Craig, there are several important points I encourage you to take seriously:

        1. The most effective known strategy to minimize legal harvest of kings in the ESSN fishery is to allow ADFG the flexibility to fish setnets upon sockeye abundance. This is proven, and there is supporting ADFG stastical data despite it being contrary to the strategy of mandatory calendar-based “conservation” closure windows pushed by your friends at KRSA.

        2. It is not honest to compare the dockside value of commercially caught salmon to the economic value of sport caught fish with multipliers included. At the very least you should include the 6-7 X local economic impact multiplier (above dockside value) that most economists agree is present in UCI commercial caught salmon.

        3. Your theory that setnet harvested kings are always more valuable inriver is flawed. Yes, on a per-fish basis, large kings are likely more valuablue when utilized in a world-class sport/guided fishery. But as I attempted to point out earlier, there is much strength in diversity of users and economies, and increasing king passage to inriver fisheries at a cost to commercial opportunity will show dimishing returns. I am not speaking of escapement. That is ultimately the most important factor here.

        Your arguments are one-sided and flawed at best. I just wish you’d be more honest with them, becuase there aren’t many reasonable commercial fishermen who’d argue against truly managing our fish for maximum economic yield.

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      • Todd: Your arguments are becoming such gibberish it’s questionable whether I should even approve them for further discussion. You obviously didn’t read my last post. Of course, there are non-Kenai kings caught in ESSN, just as there are non-Kenai kings caught in-river, especially in the tidally influenced portions of the river. How many of those fish are also destined for spawning grounds farther up Cook Inlet? We don’t know. So we can’t really compare the genetically identified portion of one harvest to the non-genetically identified portion of another.
        But it’s a distraction anyway. You don’t care about reducing the ESSN to minimum numbers of Chinook in order to get maximum numbers of Chinook in-river. You pretty clearly outline your position with your comments on bycatch.
        I suggest you actually look at the literature to familiarize yourself with the meaning of the term. Someone actually did the literature search for you. You can find the summary here: https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=voOzWuVQcw8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=bycatch+%22non-targeted%22&ots=zPdbzV0_YV&sig=JHPEjnB5zRWAz1gRjexnB1TLNTI#v=onepage&q=bycatch%20%22non-targeted%22&f=false
        A lot of bycatch gets sold. The term bycatch is used to separate target species from non-target species, which probably perfectly defines the Kenai problem. You and some other ESSNers think Kenai kings are a target species along with sockeye.
        You don’t want to fix the bycatch problem, because you don’t think it a bycatch problem. You think you are entitled to those fish. Fine.
        Maybe we should solve the trawl bycatch problem by simply allowing trawlers to sell salmon and halibut. By your definition, those fish would then cease to be bycatch. Yahoo! Problem solved! No more offshore debate about by-catch.
        I am glad to see you did well on Chinook last year. If you got $4 a pound at around 20 pounds a fish, you did much better than everyone else since the end of season blue sheet has the average Cook Inlet king, a 16 pounder, going at $2.05 a pound. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=CommercialByFisherySalmon.exvesselquery Or at least that summarizes the Chinook legally sold.
        How many went unreported? Nobody knows, but given the politics of the situation there is a good incentive to under report. It’s sad, and it’s true, and there are no doubt fishermen who weight that.
        Most commercial fishermen I know and have known care primarily about only one MEY: their own. You pretty clearly fall in that camp. I don’t fault you or anyone else for this. I believe in capitalism. I think it’s healthy people are driven to maximize profits. And everyone of your arguments here comes back to that in the end.
        You want the system to continue to function just like it does — no matter whether the state gets the highest economic return on a public resource or not — because you think the system provides you the highest economic return. Nothing wrong with that. But just be honest about it.
        Me, I got no dog in the hunt. I haven’t fished for Kenai kings in more than a decade. What I do care about is that the state and all of its citizens get maximum value out of all state resources. We shouldn’t give away our oil, and we shouldn’t give away our fish. We’re not getting maximum value in Cook Inlet.
        We need to fix the bycatch problem in order to do that. You don’t want to fix the bycatch problem. You don’t even think there is a bycatch problem. End of discussion.

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  6. The first run fish are still targeted by the Alaska Native subsistence set net fishery north of Ninilchik beginning in mid-May every year. Any numbers on the take in this fishery?

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  7. Craig, I will type slowly and choose my words carefully so as not to confuse…

    The 7,549 number YOU linked in your article was listed by ADFG as preliminary 2015 ESSN + Central District Drift harvest of ALL King Salmon. That number changed slightly (to 7,781 for ESSN, 556 for Drift, according to the 2015 AMR) but for the purposes of this discussion that change is irrelevant. Again, 7,549 included ALL KING SALMON harvested in these (2) fisheries. According to GSI (genetic testing) of a large majority of ESSN harvest, conservatively only about 75% of the 7,549 fish killed (which YOU referenced) were bound for the Kenai River. I realize that it’s common practice for sportfish jihadists to count every king killed in the ESSN fishery as Kenai-bound, but it is dishonest and untrue. Surely you knew that.

    I don’t know where you saw that only 1,100 Kings were killed in the 2015 Kenai river sport fishery, but I assure you it is inaccurate by a factor of nearly 4. 2015 Kenai River creel estimates indicated that 4,093 Kenai Late Run kings were killed. That’s around 6,000 Kenai Kings killed in gillnets, and around 4,000 Kenai Kings killed in the river. Your opening statement that “Seven out of every eight Kenai River late-run king salmon killed last year died in gillnets” is nowhere near accurate. Calling me selfish or focusing on my ever-so-slightly incorrect use of a figure of speech in my comment won’t change the inaccuracy of your fairy tale.

    As for my mastery of the English language – as I said, 2014 commercial HARVEST of king salmon in UCI was around 5,000. Sport CATCH was around 44,000. While I admit I was using the term loosely and I failed to qualify that I was referencing catch/harvest of ALL Kings in Cook Inlet, it is darn near accurate to say that sport catch of these fish is (1) order of magnitude higher than commercial harvest. These numbers are not cherry picked, they are simply unknown because everyone is so focused on comparing harvest to harvest. Since you want to have an economic discussion I thought you would appreciate the inclusion of catch statistics because they represent a very large portion of the sport utility of this resource. From an economic perspective, this is important. Catch data is available on the ADFG sportfish harvest info page, although 2015 data does not appear to be available yet.

    These numbers are easy to confuse and manipulate, and people on all sides do it. I also make mistakes, but try to be honest about the numbers and call other people out when they are misinformed, careless, or dishonest about the statistics. Your story is all of the above. I think my effort to point this out shows that I do indeed give a “rat’s ass” about the sustainability and economic vitality of this resource. I believe the propaganda and misinformation being spread about Kenai Kings is a greater danger to the resource and my local economy/culture than any of the resource users.

    Don’t pretend to know me or my self-interests. Perhaps you are so busy labeling me a selfish commie that you haven’t considered that, like the guide in your story whom you lament over having to work a winter job, I too might have other interests that include both recreational and economic utility from healthy sport and guided fisheries. My “selfish self-interests” include a healthy resource and economy with a diverse user/industry base. They also include committing considerable time and effort to both sportfishing and helping ensure the economic health of my community, as well as educating myself on the same. Not hard to see your feeble grip on these subjects.

    Perhaps you should verify your fish statistics through an ADFG person familiar with the fishery while running your economic theories by a real economist before blogging a story like this, rather than verifying both through a paid KRSA/AFCA mouthpiece. Your failure to do so makes you look like one too, and lends some legitimacy to the rumors of where your own “selfish self-interests” lie. I guess some people will do anything to keep the tip jar full.

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  8. Craig your article is right on and very revealing. Unfortunately the posted comments are even more revealing. Most of these comments reveal fishermen who are so busy grinding their favorite salmon issue that they couldn’t see the actual problem or solution if it walked up and tapped them on the shoulder. Good grief, some want to add up all the pennies and see who’s got more, as if that could identify our salmon problems. Others just want to blame anything other than themselves. The truth is that when the money monster wraps itself around ANY fishery, the people involved suddenly go brain-dead blind as to the long-term negative environmental consequences of their actions. The more money involved, the blinder they become, to the point of actually writing laws and regulations which allow them to continue whatever they are doing. Most of these posters just don’t get it. It’s not about ANYTHING happening on “the Kenai River”! Alaska’s kings are being systematically wiped out beyond the Kenai River.

    You want to know the reason our kings are gone? If you pointed to a Kenai River issues being responsible for our STATEWIDE king problems, you are a very large part of the reason our kings are gone. Let me ask you a question. Do you think you could stop it from raining if you somehow devise the right umbrella? Searching for only “Kenai River or even Cook Inlet” salmon solutions is the equivalent of believing that you can stop the rain with the right umbrella. Our salmon problems are being increased by illogical salmon management in and around Cook Inlet but our salmon problem begins farther out to sea. Right now the U.S. and all the nations around it are currently in a contest to see who can dump the most artificial salmon into our oceans. These actions have resulted in a race to see who can thereby destroy the most wild salmon in our oceans. Artificial salmon consume prey that juvenile kings need to survive. Right now between 50 – 100 billion artificial salmon are cruising the Pacific Ocean and consuming the prey our wild juvenile kings need. This ocean hatchery salmon dumping is the rain that is falling all around us. By selecting your latest Kenai River salmon gripe you are in fact pretending that you can somehow designing the right local fix that will resolve a non-local salmon issue. The truth is that you are wasting your time. Please stop trying to design the right umbrella or the right local solution. You need to address the mindless industrial dumping of billions of artificial salmon on top of our wild salmon stocks. This is a war between artificial and wild salmon so please get it straight and stop wasting everyone’s time

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  9. Craig, I did read your story. Your numbers are crap.

    The commercial harvest of 7,549 kings includes all kings harvested by the ESSN and UCI drift fisheries regardless of streams of origin, despite good GSI (genetic) data which allows one to break the significant number of non-Kenai kings out of the discussion. Your harvest number of 1,100 kings in the Kenai sport fishery is simply wrong – they killed over 3,800 Kenai Kings in 2015 and caught and released many more. Turns out your entire story is predicated on bad data.

    http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishCounts/index.cfm?ADFG=main.kenaiChinook#/inseasonSummary

    I did not cherry pick numbers when quoting 2014 catch statistics. 2015 statewide survey statistics are not available online yet or I would have used them. I felt using 2014 statistics was better than just making stuff up. Many people feel that what happens in the rest of the Cook Inlet IS important, and that some might focus a bit too much on just the Kenai river. When one compares Cook Inlet sport CATCH of kings and coho to commercial harvest of the same, we get a clear picture of just how much sport opportunity there is for these fish in Southcentral Alaska.

    Yes, nets killed more Kenai kings last year than the inriver fishery did. This is common on weaker runs, however on stronger runs the Kenai sport fishery harvests many more kings than the gillnet fishery. Sport CATCH is orders of magnitude higher than commercial harvest, as indicated by ADFG stats. As for the health of the guide industry, we will have to disagree. I’m sure the operations who’ve staked their entire business model on the backs of the Kenai hawgs and are unwilling to seek opportunity elsewhere are still singing the blues over a largely natural cycle of low abundance. Most quality operations with smart business leaders have diversified into other fisheries and are stronger than ever with a very busy summer planned. Kenai River guide academy classes were packed again this year with a waiting list, so there is apparently no lack of new entrants into that market.

    The loss of the Early Run fishery is probably the most significant hit from an economic/guided fishing standpoint, but try as you might you simply cannot pin that on the commies, as their catch of early run kings is so low as to be statistically irrelevant. A number of Kenai early run fish are tributary spawning fish which enter the river and are counted as escapement on sonar in May/June, only to stage in the mainstem for weeks and get harvested in July to be counted towards late run harvest (especially back when upper river fisheries were open). That problem makes the ER/LR exploitation comparisons you quote useless. If you don’t believe me, just ask the USFWS, who recently submitted a proposal to help deal with the effects of this issue. Or you could read the ADFG reports which show the early run was chronically overharvested for years. Thank goodness we have figured this out and reasonable people are focused on dealing with these issues rather than being distracted by red herring issues like underreporting and undocumented mortality, which occur in every fishery.

    Hopefully people will stop listening to those who intentionally present bad and misleading data to pertpetual this sensless fish fight and will instead work together to maintain strong, sustainable, DIVERSE fisheries into the future.

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    • Todd: Do you not read what you link? As the state report you link clearly states, “The preliminary commercial eastside set net harvest was 7,037 Chinook salmon.” That’s the preliminary. The actual came in at 7,549. The total Cook Inlet catch was 11,000 Chinook. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=CommercialByFisherySalmon.exvesselquery As to why ADF&G has two different numbers as to in-river catch, I don’t know, and I’ll check that when I get the time to see whether the story should be corrected/updated. And I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are not trying to be intentionally misleading and thus not spike this comment, though one has to wonder. Do you know what an order of magnitude is? Here’s a definition: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/order+of+magnitude So if we had 7,549 Chinook caught in the ESSN fishery this year, we would have to have caught 75,490 in-river to get to ONE order of magnitude. And you are talking about how on “stronger runs the Kenai sport fishery harvests many more kings than the gillnet fishery. Sport CATCH is orders of magnitude higher than commercial harvest, as indicated by ADFG stats.” In the first place, the stat’s don’t say that. In the second place, “orders of magnitude” are likely an impossibility in this fishery, although if we could get to an order of magnitude — say 1,000 Chinook in the ESSN and 10,000 in-river; or 2,000 and 20,000 — we would be getting somewhere. That would be a huge economic net gain for the state. I believe the late-run, in-river harvest peaked in 1988 at about 20,000 fish. (I don’t have post 2006 harvest data handy, but don’t remember any year bigger there); the ESSN harvest in 1988 was 13,000 fish. There is a lot of statistical flipflop between ESSN and in-river harvest. Historically, the best the in-river fishery ever appears to have done was about 4-to-1 (14,931/3,684) in 2000. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/fds10-96.pdf That’s nowhere close to an order of magnitude, but might be a reasonable management goal. There is at least one former state commercial fisheries biologists who seems to think this possible with some changes in how the commercial fishery is prosecuted. But, of course, that requires people willing to change the way they do things in order to make it happen. I have seen nothing in any of your posts to indicate you give rat’s ass about altering management to increase the value of Chinook to the Alaska economy. What I see, sad to say, is a guy devoted to defending selfish self-interest. I fully understand that. If I was in your shoes, I might be doing likewise, though I’d hope not.

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  10. Craziness, greed, political and personal gain is all I get out of reading these comments, the same problems we have now and why our river is in the situation that it is. Cherry picking numbers arguing who has done the most damage pointing fingers at commercial fisherman/guides , who gives a crap who is at fault the bottom line is the people who were suppose to manage the fishery just didn’t do their jobs in time. Instead they chose to walk the fence and do nothing ! The only chance we have is for everyone to take a hit for quite sometime , commercial as well as sport fisherman until we either see the results getting better or start enhancing all species that are in danger of returning. It really sucks living in a river city and not being able to wet a line or use our boats for two short months of our already short summers. A single hook and release no bait fishery seems fair to all guides and sport fisherman to me as long as the commercial guys only get an allocated two day a week fishery with NO MORE ! emergency openings. And those who are complaining about boat traffic and boat wakes have to come out on the river during the dip net fishery and see just what kind of a mess that someone has started there.

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  11. Thanks Craig, for publishing some truth about what has happened to the Kenai salmon fishery. My brothers and I have been publishing articles for years in the newspapers about the destruction of the Kenai’s king and silver salmon fisheries.
    Human greed is a worldwide problem…and the Kenai River has been affected greatly by the mismanagement of its salmon stocks. Fish and game have been incompetent in the management of this world famous fishery. The commercial fisheries have lobbied for more fish—with their political muscle—and they have done a great job of gaining high escapements to their bank accounts! You simply have to get enough escapement for all salmon species or you will be destroying your future salmon returns.
    When you have pollock trawlers taking tons of king salmon and halibut as a bycatch, it adds up to future shortages in the years to come. Gill nets that are left in the water for consecutive days and weeks have translated into over-harvest for Kenai and Kasilof river king and silver salmon stocks. Judgement Day for our fishery is here! Fire fish and game and turn the management over to a private company that we can fire if they don’t produce good results.

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  12. Craig, your entire article is based on inaccurate information. Your opening sentence – that 7 out of 8 Kenai Kings killed last year were killed in a gillnet – is likely not what Mr. Johnstone was referencing when he commented that the harvest numbers were arguably inaccurate, but he’s right – your numbers are completely fabricated and you should slap your source. Historically, commercial gillnets in UCI kill about 1/2 as many Kenai kings as the inriver sport fishery does, and the nets’ selectivity towards smaller Kings actually helps balance out the inriver harvest which is highly selective towards larger fish.

    In fact, commercial caught Kings make up only a small fraction of the Kings caught in UCI every year. In 2014 for example, Cook Inlet commercial fisheries harvested 5,000 kings while the sport fisheries in Cook Inlet watersheds caught a whopping 44,000. Yes, that’s catch, which more accurately illustrates sport opportunity than using just harvest. If you want to talk economics let’s focus on utility, eh?

    While the effects of hatchery fish is an interesting subject, it does nothing to explain the difference in the health of the early and late Kenai king runs. The late run – harvested by all user groups – is much more healthy than the early run which has been selectively and exclusively overharvested by the inriver fishery. While the early run tributary spawners – genetically different from mainstem spawning fish – may not be fished on their spawning grounds, many have for years been counted on sonar as early run fish only to be caught and killed weeks later as late run fish in staging areas around their streams of origin. Consequently, the early run is weaker, with smaller fish and less females. The early run is closed to all fishing again this year, while the late run is projected to be strong enough to support our diverse fisheries.

    Your argument for managing towards maximum economic yield is a good one, but unfortunately you’ve done it a disservice by being dishonest about the numbers – like when you compare the dockside value of commercial caught fish (wholesale value, no economic multiplier) to what tourists spend to catch a king salmon. Or when you compare commercial harvest to sport harvest while ignoring catch. Or when you ignore the fact that we have foregone harvest of millions of Sockeye in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers over the last several years.

    In truth, the guided fishing industry on the Kenai Peninsula is doing well, with a record-breaking year on the horizon. Most quality outfits have diversified away from only fishing Kenai kings, and are better off for it. It’s a good thing too – most reasonable people agree that the free-for-all we had on the lower Kenai in the early 2000’s was not sustainable. With increased river traffic due to the PU fishery, that kind of King fishery is likely no longer feasible.

    Turns out the economy and fisheries of the Kenai Peninsula are diversified. Most of us who live here consider that a strength.

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    • Todd: did you read the story? the numbers and the ADF&G sources are there. historically, too, it was more like a 50 split, not the 75-25 split weighted toward sport as you suggest. we don’t know exactly how many big kings the nets kill, either, because we’re absolutely clueless as to a.) drop outs and b.) unreported harvest. you’re cherry picking data, as well. the catch last year was 11,000. the 10-year average is closer to 10,000 than 5,000. and what happens elsewhere around the Inlet is largely irrelevant, since the commercial harvest is heavily weighted to the Kenai River. it directly affects the in-river fisheries where, in truth, the guided fishing industry on the Kenai is NOT doing well as is clearly evidence by the numbers. the survivors have diversified, but they are not doing well. if the number of commercial fishing permits were too fall as precipitously as the guide permits have fallen we would no doubt be able to hear the screaming from winter homes Outside. i do agree the commercial fishery lost about a half-million sockeye it could have harvested last year. that’s unfortunate, very unfortunate. but maybe if the commercial fishery cooperated just a little in trying to solve the Chinook bycatch problem, instead of trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or make excuses for it, we’d be able increase that sockeye catch. that would be a good thing. i would be all for it as would any other reasonable person interested in what’s best for this state. lastly, your early-run Chinook observations are so just much hooey. the historic harvest rate there has been about 38 percent versus 36 percent on the late run. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=chinookinitiative_kenai.main#summary the difference between those twp numbers doesn’t account for what we’re seeing now. we’ve actually had weak runs for most of this decade. harvest was reduced accordingly. most of the 2012 season the fishery was shut down, and of course in 2013, 2014, 2015 it was closed. the runs have not responded as expected. a food problem in the ocean? maybe. a water temperature problem in some of key spawning tributaries such as Benjamin Creek? something worth investigation. a predation problem? not beyond the realm of possibility. there is a whole about Kenai kings, both late and early, it would be nice to know.

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  13. The harvest numbers for Kings is arguably quite inaccurate. ADF&G, in using sport fish data understands that there is mortality involved in Catch and release and adds approx 8 percent to the number of fish released as expected mortality and that number is reflected in overall sport harvest. However it does not add to the harvest by commercial net fishers any number of fish killed by drop outs or under reporting. Commercial fishers have an incentive to not report kings that drop out and a few misguided ones do not report all Kings kept. To do so is viewed as putting another nail in their coffin and another possible reason to impose restrictions on their fishing opportunities. Some understand and do their best to release kings alive from their nets. But that is a futile gesture as even if the fish lives after the trauma of being netted it has to get through the gauntlet of hundreds of other nets before getting to its home River. And as a practical matter it is likely to fall to the bottom and die.
    Nobody knows the extent of this mortality. And ADF&G does not appear to want to know these numbers. But do the math. With at least 500 nets some 600 feet long being fished on a beach thirty or more miles long, the number could add significantly to the harvest. Of course there is an argument that not all sport fishers report all catch and release and maybe some under report their catch. But enforcement and data collection on the Kenai River is far more robust than in the beaches where the commercial fishers operate.

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  14. I’ve bugged Craig about this for years, I guess I can’t help myself because here I go again. It’s far too simplistic to say the value of a commercial caught king is $2.05 a pound. I haven’t done the math lately, but the ratio of sockeye to kings used to be about 300 to 1. In other words, taking nets out of the water (the only real way to reduce king take), the commercials lose over $2800 for each king not harvested (6 lb. average at $1.60 lb.).

    He’s also cherry picking data to make his point. The commercial percentage of total return has been fairly constant, so picking years with historically low returns skews the percent of harvested fish towards commercial. He doesn’t compare sport to commercial harvest data for the non-catastrophic return years, because they’d show a more equitable distribution. He also minimizes the comparison to the first run of kings, which hasn’t been commercially fished since the 70’s. The first run is a complete mess, arguably worse off than the 2nd run despite the commercial effort on the latter.

    Don’t get me wrong – actions must be taken to preserve both runs. But they must address spawning and rearing habitat, environmental issues, and user group harvest. For example, first run staging areas in the middle river are now protected, but there is no protection for second run (main stem) spawning areas such as Big Eddy. Pike eradication efforts should help rebuild the Soldotna Creek kings, but I suspect Beaver Creek fish are out of luck due to the gauntlet of boats that form up just downriver. It’s a great place to intercept fish, but that is the problem. Craig is spot on that dumping huge numbers of hatchery smolt into the ocean is a terrible idea, but culling the largest fish year after year is also bad (would you intentionally prevent the prime specimens of any other species from their only chance at passing on their superior genetics?).

    I don’t pretend to have a comprehensive answer, but I can’t stand misinformation. Anyone telling you that eliminating one user group (commercial, guides, etc.) is lying to you for their own gain.

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    • Tim: Two things wrong here. 1.) There are good reasons to believe you can substantially reduce king salmon bycatch without reducing the sockeye catch. 2.) I’m not trying to make any point. The information and the data is what it is. We’ve lost millions in Alaska business. The only question is how many millions. As to the rest of it, Soldotna Creek has problems, but the biggest seem to be there are just so few fish coming back there to spawn now. That’s not a pike issue. Beaver Creek doesn’t have much spawning habitat; it’s more a coho system. And the culling issue is more than just a in-river matter. We used to average 30-pound kings — average — on the beach. Draw the bell curve. Give the size of past harvests, we were getting a good number of 40- and 50-pound fish, not to mention bigger kings that died in nets and dropped out. If, of course, it’s genetics. One has to wonder about that given the loss in 1-5, 2-4, 2-5, 0-4 and even some 1-6 fish. the return now seems heavily weighted to 1-1s, and 1-2s. is this a genetic factor, or is there some environmental reason fish aren’t spending as much time in the ocean before heading back. is there a trigger there is in some way indicating that the odds of species survival are better the less time they spend in the ocean?

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  15. The sad reality is the Kenia King will be managed to maintain a minimal escapement. That is how ADFG manages all fisheries in the state. “Minimal”is the key word. The fish stock will have to decline to a number which is considered to be “threatened” before this management objective will change.

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  16. Kings are first to die in a purse seine and gill net. They become exhausted rapidly. I have flown over bends in a clear river and have seen catch and release kings dead right in front of fly fishermen. Once they are done fighting, the released kings are too exhausted to stay in the current and die.

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  17. Over rated fishery for years. Only one fish. Combat fishing. Cussing guides fighting for position. If you catch fish in shared boat you must stop fishing totally while you ride out trip waiting for others to catch their fish. Don’t waist your money.

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    • when is the last time you fished the Kenai or Southcentral Alaska in general? Bill; the decline in Kenai fish has cut down on the combat and the fighting for position, and the requirement anglers stop fishing kings for the day after bagging a fish bigger than 20 inches now applies to most of the streams and rivers in and around Anchorage.

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  18. Beautiful article Craig… I live on the Kenai River since 1984. While there has been some effort to study the Kings that migrate in the Killey and Funny River, there is no study on the lack of spawning in Beaver Creek or Soldotna Creek. In the mid 1980’s I would count 100’s of spawning salmon in Beaver Creek, some of which would swim under the culvert that allows Beaver Creek to flow under the Spur Hwy. I haven’t seen a salmon in Beaver Creek in 15 years. Same is true for Soldotna Creek. There use to be schools of King Smolt in Soldotna Creek all year long. They are now gone. Blame it on development of Fred Meyers, Northern Pike or power boats… but the bottom line is that Fish and Game no longer considers these rivers viable spawning habitat. Why doesn’t Fish and Game have similar weirs for these two rivers as the Feds have for the Killey and Funny Rivers? Fish and Game is run for the commercial fishery and the sport fishery of Kings be damned.

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  19. My wife and I fished the Kenai for 28 straight years, and we fished it hard, we caught and released 23 Kings 60 pounds and over, we released all those fish so our Grand children would have a chance at an 80. We quit the river in 2013, and have moved on, it is sad what has happened to the Big Kings, but for my money you can take the drift nets and shove them up the ass of those who allowed “Commercial to be King” in Alaska.

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    • 60 lb kings are likely females. Current studies related to hooking and releasing females suggests the stress to the fish may have a significant impact on spawning success. While it was believed for years that reeling in and releasing these fish was considered harmless, that may not actually be the case. It’s easy to blame commercial nets for the Kenai’s problems ….. but that may not be the culprit. Much more needs to be known about the effects of in-river activities.

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  20. I an from North Carolina and have fished Alaska for 20 years. The Kenai gave me a 65 and 75 pound king in 2 days in 2009. Since then I have had to go elsewhere to catch kings. The river has been closed to sport fishing while nets suck up any chance a tourist might have to make a long trip there worthwhile. I mourn the loss of this legendary fishery.

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  21. I too remember the glory days and also thought then that the big kings would soon start to decline due to over fishing and mismanagement. There are other factors influencing their decline than those that you pointed out.
    The Trawler fleet int the ocean kills thousands of feeder kings in their nets and should be shut down immediately. The offshore set nets could be declared illegal because of the damage they are doing to the important kelp forest and our ecomomy. There were and are now way too many guides on the Kenai since resident fisherman alone put enough pressue on this resource. We have to quit dollar bill management and concentrate on building up the resource 20 years down the road. We have to adopt the Russian fish management model which has proven to be far better than any other. We are up against that huge wall of money that exists also in D.C. where corporate greed
    takes over our political system. We have to get the commercial fisherman out of office in Juneau and Washington.

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  22. Craig …. Having been a Cook Inlet drifter since 1965 …. our perspectives obviously differ. The in-river king fishery on the Kenai was a boom and bust event because it was not sustainable. This fishery occurs on the spawning grounds where kings have returned to spawn. The Kenai River guide “boom” exploded the effort on spawning kings …. targeting the biggest ones until they were all but gone. We all should have been more concerned about the long term effects of denying kings a reasonable demarcation point ….. a line … once crossed would provide undisturbed spawning habitat …. not a barrage of powerboats racing over head.

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    • some of that is true or partially true, Bob. some of the fishery does occur on the spawning grounds. how much boat traffic influences spawning success is unclear. kings bury their eggs feet deep in gravel. and the fishery below the Soldotna bridge is more of an intercept fishery. meanwhile, basically NONE of the early-run king fishery takes place on the spawning grounds. the spawning grounds for those fish are in the Killey, Funny and Kenai and tributaries above Skilak Lake. and yet the early-run fish appear to be in even more trouble than the late-run fish. as for genetic selection from the removal of big fish, the debate is interesting. if it has caused the shift we’re seeing within the space of a few decades, it is something of an evolutionary phenomenon, but there have been some indications coming out of hatchery that salmon can genetically adapt rather readily. i guess the good news in that would be that if they can evolve rapidly in one direction, they should be able to do it another. personally, though, i tend to lean toward something environmental. despite that, i don’t mind seeing the Kenai evolving into a drift fishery upstream from the Soldotna bridge. it makes for a peaceful fishery.

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    • How about that demarcation line be Ninilchik, in the salt water?

      Late-run Kenai and Kasilof kings have an average spawning date in river of August 20.

      There is a demarcation line (time) for in-river anglers – it is August 1 after which there is no in river fishing for Kings. The season ending date exists so anglers are not fishing on spawning kings. You state you don’t want people fishing on spawning kings – well anglers are not. The cut-off date is three weeks prior to when they are spawning.

      Set net fishing for kings can extend to August 15.

      There is no motor boat fishing on the Anchor, Deep Creek, Ninilchik or Kasilof River, yet these peninsula rivers have also seen dramatic declines in King Salmon abundance, like just about every other major river system in Alaska.

      The Yukon, the state’s largest in river commercial fishery for kings, has been closed to commercial king salmon for a decade; the Kuskokwim has had severe restrictions during that time on the state’s largest subsistence fishery for kings.

      Are you saying there should be no motorboat traffic on the Kuskokwim or Yukon Rivers? Because they to are witnessing historic low returns of King Salmon.

      Your statement pointing to motorboat traffic on the Kenai River as the cause of low Kenai king salmon returns is not logical, and does not follow from the primary root cause – ocean conditions – identified by ADFG and NOAA.

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      • I think we all know there are multiple problems associated with state wide king salmon declines ….. and everyone would like to see signs of recovery. The Kenai River kings are likely being affected by unfavorable ocean conditions … just like other kings. The Kenai River is unique though …. from many other king salmon rivers in Alaska ….. in that almost all of the main-stem river is king salmon spawning habitat. Unlike the Yukon which is hundreds of yards wide in many places …. there is no calm corridor for a Kenai king to make it’s way up river. Does the collective power boat traffic on the kenai have an impact on the ability of kings to spawn successfully …. whether main stem or tributary? Seems reasonable that it might. Would targeting the biggest kings for years in the Kenai have something to do with the big ones being mostly gone? Seems reasonable that it might. I’m a believer that allocation disagreements are normal and will always be a part of salmon management ….. but it makes no sense to me that we aren’t all more protective of salmon spawning habitat and the activity that occurs there while kings are returning to spawn. If we don’t allow reasonable spawning opportunity …. how do we expect fish to survive?

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  23. Non commercial fisherman should take a look at the lgbt movement and realize that things can change. I would rather pay double or triple per pound for my fish at a restaurant and still have a chance to catch a big fish. Fishing and hunting are in decline because kids need to catch fish to be interested. They need to shoot deer and elk to want to hunt. My 2 boys are indifferent at this point. Where are the billionaires who give a shit about hunting and fishing.

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    • Totally agree with those comments, Tim, but there’s not much data there either. Certainly there are businesses in Alaska that process and smoke fish here that add a lot of value for Alaska. We should be encouraging that. There are also an increasing number of businesses in Alaska that head, gut and freeze (which adds little value), then ship to to China for processing (which adds value for the Chinese) and then ship back to the lower 48 which adds value for restaurants and retailers outside. None of that benefits Alaska. Tourists, though a lot of us hate them, add a lot of value here. They come. They leave money. And they ask for little in the way of services. We should be figuring out better ways to exploit them not only in the fisheries but everywhere. I know a neighbor, for instance, who might be able to pick up a little extra cash for the Alaska economy by running a bear-viewing business off her deck.

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  24. Craig, I’d like to make a suggestion … that if you are going to make an economic analysis, you should compare values at the same point on supply chains.

    Take an unguided fisherman, for example. Usually the amount the person pays to get to the Kenai to get the fish represents the value at the end of the supply chain. Often no one else is going to make money on the fish that were caught, so this fisherman is at the end of the non-commercial supply chain. You got this right in your article.

    But if you are going to make comparisons to the commercial side, then use the end of the supply chain on the commercial side. The commercial fisherman is not the end of the commercial supply chain. The commercial fisherman is in the middle. Restaurants, stores, fish markets, value added businesses (like places that sell smoked fish) are at the end of the commercial supply side. And certainly, when you get to end of the supply side on the commercial side, the value of the fish is much more than the 2 dollars a pound you quote. It’s worth exponentially more than that.

    Cherry picking numbers may help you grind your axe. But it doesn’t lend to good analytics.

    Like

    • The state of Alaska only receives tax revenues from the ex-vessel of seafood (typically between $1.5 – $2 billion), not the full export processor value (typically between $5 – $6 billion). Commercial fish taxes do not cover the ADFG commercial fish management expenses. $4 billion leaves Alaska with no tax revenue to the state.

      On the ex-port value, much of the labor is non-resident and little of those wages stay in the Alaska. The processors are almost all located in Seattle, so little of those profits stay in Alaska. None of the out of state domestic or international markets return anything to the state’s economy.

      The end of the line restaurant value does not help the Alaskan economy – so why try to include it in a comparison to angler expenditures in Alaska? That is not an apples to apples comparison as you suggest. It is apples to anchovies.

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