Summer has arrived in the north, and with it there is everywhere talk of fish.
In Alaska, some of the people fish all of the time, and most of the people fish at some time, and the few people who don’t fit either category are on a first-name basis with someone who does fish.
Since ancient times, it has been this way. Wars were fought over salmon before the U.S. purchase of the territory established a ruling colonial presence that quickly took control of salmon, leading to extreme hardships for the Alaska Native population.
Fish wars still rage from time to time, but they are now mainly verbal. Still, they are fueled with enough passion to inspire “Alaska Fish Wars,” a reality TV show from National Geographic Wild set in Cook Inlet, and spark assault with a dangerous weapon charges against the skipper of a Prince William Sound purse seiner who tried to take out a competitor.
Salmon fuel passions, and where there passions, there are beliefs. Often those beliefs revolve around human desires more than factual realities. Some beliefs have grown especially sticky this year with sport fishing and conservation groups, joined by a handful of commercial fishermen, challenging the long-held Alaska belief that hatcheries are a be-all to end-all.
It’s a myth, but it is not the only myth. Here are the five most common:
Number five: Fish stocks are depleted by too many people fishing.
Bad-mouthing shoulder-to-shoulder “combat fishing” – be it at Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage, the Russian River near Cooper Landing or at the mouth of the Kenai River – is something of a favorite 49th-state pastime in summer.
People willing to stand in line for half-an-hour to get into a hit movie or happy to spend hundreds of dollars to fly to Seattle to become a faceless minion in the render-you-deaf crowd at a Seahawks football game somehow find it offensive mobs of people gather to slay salmon.
Commercial fishermen in particular love to lament how all those people having fun are “destroying the resource.” But here’s the reality:
It doesn’t matter how many people fish; what matters is how many fish people kill. On a good day in Cook Inlet, a drift gillnetter can kill as many sockeye salmon – possibly more – than all the tourists lined up at the mouth of Russian River tossing heavily weighted flies into the waters of a fly-fishing-only meat fishery that can leave newly arrived fly-fishing purists in shock.
The 19,000 anglers who fished the Russian in 2016 caught 25,000 sockeye salmon for the season, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game numbers. In one day – July 27 – of last year, 764 commercial fishermen operating largely out of sight in Cook Inlet took nearly nine times as many fish.
Commercial fishermen fish efficiently with nets. Anglers? Not so much.
The fly-fishing-only fishery at the Russian isn’t about fly-fishing; it’s about limiting efficiency. It’s about restricting fish gear to make it harder to catch fish so mobs of people can fish without harming the resource.
Because, at the end of the run, what matters is how many fish people killed – not how many people fished.
Number four: Salmon hatcheries ensure more fish.
Some Alaska salmon stocking operations using hatchery fish have proven highly successful in providing roadside fishing opportunities in Alaska. Hatcheries helped boost the Ship Creek king salmon fishery in downtown Anchorage, and they feed the Homer Spit Lagoon king fishery in that community near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.
Hatcheries are also credited with the creating a Prince William Sound, commercial pink salmon fishery worth $36 million last year, according to ADF&G. That program, the state’s largest hatchery operation, is, however, now being questioned for both it efficacy, and the potential cost to other fisheries of the releases of huge numbers of pink salmon fry.
And while the ocean-ranching operations of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association (PWSAC) have been a huge success for the Sound’s commercial fishermen, hatchery operations don’t always work.
ADF&G and later the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association – a clone of the private, nonprofit PWSAC – have pumped hatchery sockeye into Hidden Lake on the Kenai Peninsula since the 1970s to boost sockeye returns to the Kenai River, which has sockeye wild runs in the millions of fish.
In 2017, 10,032 adult sockeye – both wild and hatchery fish – returned to the lake. The goal is 30,000. But at least 2017 was better than 2016 when only 1,248 fish returned, according to CIAA’s annual report.
The Kenai River put more than 1.3 million sockeye upstream from a sonar counter last year and 1.4 million in 2016. The numbers edged above the established goal for a ceiling of 1.3 million sockeye in-river.
The CIAA report said the reasons for the busts at Hidden Lake in “2016–2017 are not clear. Several possibilities have been raised such as fishing pressure at the mouth of Hidden Creek, beaver dams, thermal barriers, and possible correlations with other salmon runs that have under-performed over the same time frame. Although there is little that could be done regarding water temperatures and marine survival, ensuring that fishermen are not over-harvesting salmon near the mouth of Hidden Creek in 2018 is one factor that can be addressed to improve future escapement numbers.”
How many fish were caught at Hidden Creek is unclear. The CIAA report did say the “estimated commercial fishery harvest of Hidden Lake sockeye salmon (enhanced and natural) was 13,480. Personal use and sport fishery combined was estimated at 5,824.”
Any fish caught by anglers near the mouth of Hidden Creek would be a sliver of the personal-use/sport harvest of about a third of the catch of Hidden Lake sockeye.
CIAA has met its Hidden Lake goal of 30,000 sockeye only twice in the past decade. It did better the decade before with 30,000 or more returning six times in the 2009 to 1998 time frame.
Before the new millennium dawned, there were even concerns raised that so many hatchery-spawned fish would return to Hidden Lake that their spawned-out, rotting carcasses might overwhelm the system and pollute the lake. Those concerns now seem like ancient history.
Hidden Lake aquaculture seems to be following the path of the commercial, ocean-ranching operations British Petroleum, Union Carbide and the Weyerhaeuser Co. started in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. The companies lost tens of millions of dollars on ocean-ranching before giving up on the idea.
Number 3: “Over escapement” threatens salmon stocks.
This is a complaint most often heard from commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet who have been in a long-running battle with anglers and personal-use dipnetters over who gets to catch what salmon.
The complaint is seldom, if ever, heard elsewhere in Alaska.
Collectively, the rivers of Bristol Bay were about 5 million over their maximum escapement goals for sockeye salmon last summer, according to ADF&G. Escapement is the management measure of the number of salmon escaping fishermen and other predators to reach the spawning grounds.
Nobody in the Bay seemed upset by the massive over-escapement in local rivers even if it was a number almost four times larger than the usual Kenai return.
None of which is meant to downplay the importance of escapement goals both high and low.
“When carrying capacity is exceeded, salmon runs can collapse quickly to levels the habitat will support,” the Northwest Power and Conservation Council warned in the wake of a record salmon return to the Columbia River in 2014.
Scientists who’ve studied salmon runs in Alaska for decades say the issue isn’t quite that simple, however. At some point long before a fishery collapse, salmon systems welcoming more fish than they can support begin to see what are called “density dependent” effects due to too many fish.
The first thing that happens is that the number of fish returning per spawner drops, but the point at which that becomes an issue is invariably debatable.
Whether there is or isn’t over-escapement depends on who you are, the Wild Salmon Center concluded in a white paper written on the subject.
For commercial fishermen, it said, any fish in excess of the escapement goal that gets up a river is lost money, which translates into over-escapement. For fishery managers, any escapement that pushes the return per spawner into negative numbers is over-escapement.
But for fishery biologists and ecologists, the idea of over-escapement doesn’t really exist. A large number of returning salmon just means more fertilizer brought back from the sea to enrich the river drainages in which the fish are born and die.
Number two: Fishing on spawning grounds harms fisheries
See number one. What harms fisheries is the harvest of too many fish or the elimination of their habitat. And despite much concern about the latter in the dam-riddled, sprawling areas of human expansion such as the Pacific Northwest, the former continues to be the source of most fish declines.
The worry about fishing on spawning grounds is also strangely salmoncentric. Nobody seems to worry about fishing on the spawning grounds of marine species.
Halibut, for instance, spawn through March into April and sometimes as late as June, according to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Their Gulf of Alaska spawning areas are well documented.
And yet the commercial fishing season for halibut opens on March 1, and there are no blanket closure areas in the Gulf to protect spawning areas.
Nobody seems particularly worried that fishing on spawning grounds will harm halibut.
Number one: Alaska’s limited entry law was a conservation effort
Alaska voters in 1972 by an overwhelming majority approved an amendment to the Alaska Constitution to allow the state to limit the number of commercial fishermen allowed in state fisheries.
The Alaska Limited Entry Law was enacted the very next year. About 16,000 permits were eventually issued to commercial fishermen, according to the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. (CFEC).
Some like to push the idea that limited entry “saved” Alaska salmon. It didn’t.
What shifted Alaska salmon fisheries from the low returns of the 1970s to the record returns of the 1990s and 2000s were stringent regulations to prevent overharvest and a warming of the North Pacific Ocean that increased salmon survival.
All limited entry did was protect the financial interests of those people who obtained permits to fish. A lot of the original permit holders cashed out their permits – which were awarded free by the state but became property that could be sold – and quit fishing.
Limited entry did make it easier for state fishery managers to regulate harvests. It’s easier to control the catch of 1,000 boats than 10,000 boats, but from a conservation standpoint that might actually have increased the commercial harvest.
Because the larger the number of people fishing, the more conservative fishery managers are forced to regulate to ensure that escapements are met. In a crowded situation, wise modern fishery managers err on the side of underharvest rather than overharvest.
Fewer commercial fishermen allows managers to better tune the commercial catch to put the maximum number of salmon in the fish holds of commercial boats and still meet escapement goals.
All of which has been a good thing – a really good thing – for Alaska commercial fishermen.
In the decade after statehood, the commercial catch of sockeye in Cook Inlet, the body of water at Anchorage’s doorstep, averaged 1.3 millon per year. And it fell in the 1970s when Upper Cook Inlet’s 1,300 commercial fishermen were allowed to catch only 1.1 million sockeye per year.
Not long after limited entry was imposed, a massive turnaround began. By the 1980s,commercial fishermen were netting an average of 4.4 million fish per year in the Inlet. Their take had increased by about 3 million fish per year over the historic, pre-statehood harvest.
And sport and personal-use dipnetters who also faced extreme restrictions in the 1970s when Inlet runs of sockeye, Chinook and coho salmon were weak. How did they fare?
Sockeye harvests for tens of thousands of anglers and dipnetters increased by only about 500,000 fish total. And catches of Chinook (king) and coho (silver) sometimes actually fell as returns of those species got caught up in indiscriminate commercial net fisheries that target sockeye.
Limited entry didn’t work so well for those fishermen, but then limited entry was never about maximizing the number of salmon getting back into Alaska rivers, where subsistence, personal-use and rod-and-real fishermen catch their slamon. Limited entry was about maximizing the income for Alaska commercial fishermen.
Too many nets are more damaging than too many hooks. Both pose problems. Unlimited hooks in staging and spawning areas are not sustainable. Neither are the amount of nets in cook inlet.
Unlimited almost anything poses problems William but what is it that makes the “amount of nets in cook inlet” a problem. I’m assuming you feel this number of nets is “too many”, but what is the proper amount?
It seems to me that if the fleet can’t make it (economically) then there could be a push to buy back some of these permits but who pays? Further, what does this satisfy, other than remaining permit holders make more money?
Todd: do you even live in Alaska?
Todd must have hit too close to home, Craig?
Craig: Unlike you, I don’t typically factor one’s age or length of AK residency into discussion of completely unrelated issues, but it would be pretty damn funny if “Alaskans First” were making his comments from elsewhere. As for where I live – don’t act like you haven’t dug into my background. I’ve read your playbook.
No question it would be “pretty damn funny!” I’m even thinking Craig could see the humor, there. I’m thinking AF is posting from Washington state where there is no income tax on his Alaskan earnings.
Anyone else can post their thoughts, too.
Todd, you got me. The jig is up. You too, Bill. Very good detective work! Particularly on how you also figured out I am a “his”. Was it my handle “Alaskans First” that gave me away? Of course, no women would dare weigh in on this subject, right? I’m impressed!
It’s not particularly funny that you be a he/she AF. It’s just “pretty damn funny” that you are posting from outside Alaska, though.
Nice try though, look over here someone thinks I’m a he!
Interesting exchange! Why would anyone living in another state, say in Washington as Yankee suggests, comment on Alaska fisheries. What possible reason would he / she have? Why would that be funny?
Main reason someone would meddle in another State’s fisheries is if they had a business interest in that fishery. And of course what makes it funny is that AF tries to pass as an Alaskan (wanting a new governor).
See the humor now?
Todd Smith, you missed my point. I said that the Kenai has always replaced spawners with no less than a one for one return. Often far greater! And there were a couple years of huge escapements. You claimed that” most folks” believe that the Kenai has reached its carrying capacity. But the returns show that is simply not the case. That was my point that apparently you misinterpreted. I did not say that it was a good idea to allow that many spawners. Or that was the best way to have fish productivity. I took no position in that regard. But I did make the point that “ over escapement” is often used by the commercial sector as what is occurring on the Kenai. And that is simply a fake argument with no merit. It’s not happening!
You now back pedal on what you have argued for many times in the past: you have regularly wanted MSY management. Now you say that is not the case. Glad to hear that you are now considering the needs of others and accepting the constitutional mandate requiring management on the principal
of sustained yield. Nothing said about MSY in that document, I noted.
Please tell me what difference it makes where I live.
And, finally do you really truly believe that comments like I and Craig make is the biggest problem facing our UCI fisheries? Is that the best you can come up with?
Todd: your statement that “ most folks” believe that carrying capacity has been reached on the Kenai is very debatable. Most in the commercial fishing sector may complain that so called “over escapement” costs them fishing opportunity and might agree with that statement. While most other users, including the hundreds of thousands who benefit from sports and personal use fisheries, probably feel just the opposite. Yield is but one aspect of the equation. Total return is the other. At no point, save for maybe one time because of climate issues, has the Kenai River failed to replace itself regardless of the size of the run. So if there is a five million escapement year with a yield of 1 for 1 at least five million or more will return. If it is a one million escapement year and the yield is 2 for 1 then two million return. Which is better? And honestly, no one really knows what the carrying capacity of the Kenai is. Large escapements benefit not just the users, but the eco system as well. Lots of living things benefit from large escapement. Your problem is not yield, habitat, spawning beds, or competition for food. It is the ever increasing demand coming from other users insisting on their constitutional right to this common property resource. I have empathy for your plight, but the problems facing the commercial fishing sector in UCI are not going away.
I always find your work entertaining and informative, but for a second there I thought I clicked on a Buzzfeed list. That stylistic criticism aside I would like to make three points: First the idea of a targeted Hidden Creek Red fishery is total and complete Bullshit. I spend two weeks every fall(which makes me a much less successful moose hunter) fishing for Rainbow Trout in the Kenai, Hidden Creek, Skilak area and I have never once seen anyone targeting Reds. Second, my friends and I are always concerned with over escapement in Bristol Bay especially in the Kvichak system. While it would be nice to catch all of the “excess “ fish, the larger concern is the way each individual creeks spawners tend to run together. This means that if the river has a huge escapement day that could be going to Just a few creeks. The problem with B.B. will always be the massive amount of fish who all decide to show up on the same day. Third( and this is a little different) when you say that the UCI fleet was “ allowed to catch 1.1 million fish” I feel like that is a little misleading. That makes it sound like they had a pre-set quota, I feel like it would be better saying “they caught” or “ were able to catch”. Just my two cents. Thanks for the good work.
But it is a pre set quota.
Comm fish in ADFG has to meet performance standards every year per their strategic plan.
Generate $1.8 billion in ex vessel value.
That’s their target.
Their target is not to generate tax revenue to cover the department’s cost for management, but to generate poundage for primarily Seattle based foreign controlled processors.
It’s not to generate tax revenue to cover education, public safety or health and human service costs, it is to minimize taxes on harvesters and processors in the Seafood industry so they can turn a profit.
Craig, what exactly are “indiscriminate commercial net fisheries that target sockeye”, and where in this state are they allowed? Is the fishery indiscriminate or is the net indiscriminate, or is it the indiscriminate net used in an indiscriminate fishery? Never really heard of an indiscriminate targeted fishery, somewhat of an oxymoron.
Catch and release having no harm would be a good myth to see busted. The mortality rate of an individual catch and release fish is fairly low, although higher than most will have you believe. The mortality rate of a fish caught repeatedly would necessarily skyrocket. I think that is where the fishing on the spawning grounds of salmon comes into effect, since a single fish in a single pool could feasibly be caught multiple times per day everyday until they either die from the repeated trauma of being caught and manhandled then released or they finally spawn.
Anything that produces bycatch could be considered indiscriminate. Trawlers and seine would be top of list .Even long liners accidentally catch other fish . Gill netting surprisingly is fairly accurate for their target . Probably because of fishery timing . They do have some other salmon as by catch . They usually are not wasted though. The way trawlers do . Occasionally some other species is caught . It’s rare . Except some small halibut look alike that get thrown back and are almost never injured. That’s what I’ve seen anyway. For what it’s worth.
Any credible points you made in this post are immediately overshadowed by “myth number two”. Fishing on spawning grounds does not harm fisheries?? Come on! Why is the Kenai closed during the trout spawn? Why are Sliklok creek and various other historic king salmon spawning beds closed? Why cant you fish above the Y on the Anchor?? Anyone who has seen salmon spawning grounds knows these fish are incredibly vulnerable and easily targeted while on their beds. Equating it to the halibut spawn is apples and oranges. They actually couldn’t be MORE different (halibut spawn deep, salmon spawn shallow… I wont get into the details Craig, you’re a smart guy). This is just lazy blogging. Honestly your one sided stance on the other issues brought up in this post makes the rest of us conservation minded sport fisherman look bad. Nothing is going to get accomplished by one side sitting around bashing the other, somebody has to take the high road. But hey, the shit-pot must be stirred. Just remember: being inflammatory does not always mean you are helping.
Mr Dont fish Spawners – Why don’t you interject some fact based research? Or are you just one of us lazy commenters ? Calling a respected hard working journalist lazy is a slimeball move . Everyone knows salmon spawn shallow . Craig may not always be 100% accurate in explaining but to throw the baby out with dirty bath water like ( don’t fish spawners did ) is foolish. Sir, please Tell us something we don’t know . Be informative, not nasty .
Equating the halibut spawn to salmon spawn is a lazy move, and telling people that it is OK to fish spawning beds is flat-out irresponsible. If calling out those two points makes me a slimeball then so be it. Why even include it in the blog? It makes absolutely no sense and just overshadows otherwise valid points. For the record I didn’t call Craig lazy, I called this blog lazy. Anything with a list (‘5 great ideas for summer’, ‘7 myths you should know’, ‘5 ways to fix UCI salmon runs’) is an automatic giveaway.
coincidence is not causation. some lists are internet chum. no doubt about it. but some chum lead the catch to bait, which is the case here.
and, to repeat, it is OK to fish on spawning beds. we’ve got that old Alaska, Hudson-Stuckism thing going here: everything is fine as long as it is fine.
as i said before, people year in and year out fish the shit out of the main sockeye salmon spawning beds on the Kenai. there is no harm to the fishery because the mortality there doesn’t matter.
there are other spawning areas – say Daves Creek which holds some monster Dollies at times – that are closed because the fish are very vulnerable and mortality is easily increased above the acceptable. but that is true in some marine areas as well.
when MatSu bound coho school in some of the rips of Cook Inlet and become very vulnerable to gillnet harvest, they shouldn’t be fished there either because the consequences for other fisheries are too big.
Thanks for making the point that people believe what they want to believe. None of those areas are closed to spawning per se. They are closed because the fish in those areas at certain times of the year or because of shallow, clear water are especially vulnerable to harvest.
The closures have nothing to do with fishing on the spawning grounds. They are all about eliminating or reducing mortality.
The regulations exist for the same reason the single-hook, fly-fishing only area on the Russian River exists, and for the reason that Sport Fish Division management isn’t very sophisticated.
Population wise on the Kenai River, at least, we have likely reached the point where a few of those big, old rainbows could be removed every spring. if Sport Fish were the Wildlife Division, there would be X number of permits put into a Trophy Fish Drawing Permit fishery for which anglers could pay $25 a shot for a chance to fish the river in the spring, and the state could raise some management money.
How many people do you think would be willing to gamble $25 on the chance to be able to fish a deserted Kenai on one of those 11 days at the start of June when the river runs empty of people? Or the Russian. Imagine being the lucky winner of the one-permit-per day awarded to fish the latter in the period from June 1 to June 11.
Meanwhile, to get back to the original point, it’s about mortality, not the spawning grounds.
The largest spawning ground for Kenai sockeye salmon is between the Russian River an Skilak Lake ( 35–42% of sockeye salmon spawned annually) and the second biggest is just downstream of Skilak Lake. (10–20% spawned annually). Both areas get the shit fished out of them, most especially the former.
Once sockeye fishing ends there, a sizable rainbow trout/Dolly Varden char fishery continues until freeze-up. There is no doubt incidental mortality of sockeye associated with that fishery. But it doesn’t matter because there are so many sockeye packed in that stretch of rivers some years that that mortality is comparatively small, likley so small as to be statistically insignificant.
So your rational is that the entire river is a spawning ground? While this might be true as a broad theory we all know fish do not utilize the entire river to spawn but rather select areas or beds. To narrow things down lets look at the early run Kenai Kings; roughly 66% of those fish spawn in the Killey River, 28% spawn main-stem,and 19% in Funny River. Look at a map and what do you see? Boat fishing closures (not closures per se, but essentially) in all of those areas listed. These areas are closed to protect fish that are spawning and staging to spawn. You are right, it is about mortality because, as mentioned previously, fish on their spawning beds are more susceptible, easier to catch, and easier to kill.
On the Kenai rainbow comments, do you have any information to back up the claim that at this point we are probably safe to open up retention of “a few of those big, old rainbows” every spring? All evidence I have been presented, colloquial or otherwise, points to the contrary. In speaking with the ADF&G techs and bios doing the test fish (happening right now, during your proposed Trophy Permit Period) they are seeing far fewer fish over the 27″ inch mark than ever before. Long time trout guides on the river have been saying this for the past 8 years. In fact, I would not be surprised if there is a push to extend the spawning closure even further to protect those fish.
While I understand where you are coming from, pushing a narrative that fishing spawning beds is,in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential is a dangerous narrative and has no place in the larger conversation.
fishing on the spawning beds only matters if it increases overall mortality or mortality in a cohort that needs to be protected, period.
if we’re seeing fewer big rainbows on the Kenai, and i haven’t seen any data, the first question to be asked is whether we have a biomass issue. the river will only support a certain biomass (ie. pounds) of rainbow trout.
that biomass can skew to the extremes in the form of a few huge fish or lots and lots of small fish or settle anywhere between those extremes.
my gut feeling is that there are considerably more rainbow trout in the Kenai now than in the 1980s when i used to fish the river a lot more than i do now, but i don’t have the data in front of me. there should be some from those crazy electrofishing exercises done back then however.
if we have a biomass issue, ie. the available food is increasingly being eaten by a large number of small fish instead of distributed across a population of small, middle-size and a few big fish, extending the spawning closure in the idea of protecting more big might be counter productive unless something is done to significantly increase the removal of small fish.
and i haven’t heard anyone advocating for catching and keeping a lot more small rainbows.
Great piece Craig. Look forward to the companion editorial. “5 myths of predator control”?
Good info Craig ! Indiscriminate nets and over harvest , benefiting a majority of outside interests . Combined with commercial fishers forcing their agenda . Thanks for keeping Alaskans in the loop . Management should be based on what gives each fish the most value and returns for Alaskan residents. Sport and personal use should rank higher. Commercial is important though. Decisions should be based on sound science not what benefits a few pocket books . The natural fish stocks ,Alaska natives and now the actual majority of residents appear to be getting a raw deal .
Some good points Truth, But sound science is the study of sound. don’t know how that fits with fishing? Alaskan natives have no more priority than any other Alaskan. I don’t believe management should be based on what gives each fish the most value and returns for Alaskan residents. But the allocation should be subsistence, personal use, resident sport, commercial. non-resident sport. it is very clear in the pie chart in times of shortage commercial interests have some fat that could be cut and not substantially effect there interest. Whereas the 1.5% have no more to give.
Allen I hope you were being humorous.? Sound also means free of flaw or defect / solid ect . Not just a reference to sound the noise . Could even mean a body of water . Or an act . Checking the depth. I believe. Might be wrong on that . Also I didn’t mean natives should get preference I meant to refer to how lack of fish stocks massively disrupt their lives and culture. Especially recent times . Any people living a remote or basic lifestyle could be included in that .
You are sure to get some harsh comments disagreeing with aspects of this piece. You have identified areas that the commercial fleets in Upper Cook Inlet will find very sensitive and close to the ugly truth about their fisheries. Regrettably the BOF and the Dept are managing the UCI fisheries based on the history of uses that occurred many decades ago. Today, the population is exponentially greater,and the uses are far different. Times have changed and regulatory and management agencies must change and adapt. They have been loath to do so.
The economics have gone from favoring commercial uses to significantly favoring Sport, guided sport, and personal uses. Hundred of thousands of Alaskans use the fishery as sports and dip net fishers. Yet the fishery is still managed mostly to support the few commercial permit holders. I feel for these users in a way. They have been and will continue to give up part of their harvest for the greater good of providing reasonable opportunities for all other Alaskans. Not an easy pill to swallow, but constitutionally mandated nevertheless.
Claims of over escapement, over crowding, and bad habitat management by in river users are red herrings meant to mask their real fears. They fear that the Dept and BOF will start managing as required by Alaska’s constitution: for the many and not the few.
hey, i don’t mind giving most of the fish to UCI commercial fishermen if the economics support it. i’m all for wise economic management that yields the highest return on Alaska resources whether they’re fish or oil or minerals.
i just expect everyone to be honest about the basic facts under discussion.
we don’t have an over-escapement problem in the Kenai. we might have an MSY problem if MSY is interpreted solely as maximum yield for the commercial fishery. if the yield is calculated as maximum economic return for the Alaska economy, then the picture changes and along with it the goalposts for over-escapement.
it’s the same for many of the rest of these wrongly held popular perceptions.
it’s hard to have the legitimate public policy discussion that needs to be had until the myths are knocked out of the way.
Been reading the responses. Yep, as I figured your piece was controversial. Waiting for some of the commercial sector fishers to weigh in. Some are very bright people and realize there needs to be some changes. The ESSN fisheries were intended to be low investment part time income fisheries. They have morphed into very large investment fisheries because of the value of their sites.some sites have sold to the tune of a million dollars. That is not what was intended when the fishery went limited entry. So now these lessees of the shore sites who paid the big bucks are in jeopardy. I would be resisting change if I were them. But here were no guarantees.
Yield and habitat were not mentioned much in this piece. Textbook argument against overescapement: few, if any, are arguing that overescapement will threaten Salmon stocks. It’s a yield discussion, and it’s undeniable that yield goes down when carrying capacity is exceeded – whether that be in fresh water or at sea. Also, habitat didn’t seem to make the discussion concerning too many people fishing and/or fishing on/around spawning beds. Freshwater habitat has a carrying capacity with regard to fishermen and most folks agree that we’ve reached that point on the Kenai River. So funny Craig that you claim to care about the economics, yet you continue to use sport/comm harvest comparisons to represent sport opportunity. It’s like using fuel consumption to represent driving opportunity. “Oh no! Carlisle uses more fuel than me! I’m oppressed!”
actually, that was mentioned, Todd. that’s what return per spawner is all about: yield.
and there is a point at which maximum yield declines. where that point is remains variable and difficult to precisely define, however, and whether it should be a prime management goal is debatable.
it is no different from the ocean where also arise issues of density dependency as regards MSY, not to mention the issues of displacement and replacement (D&R) of sockeye, Chinook and coho stocks with hatchery pinks. there are tradeoffs in all things, and they need to be considered in all things.
there are some good arguments to be made for giving PWS hatchery pinks a preference over Cook Inlet Chinook, sockeye and coho if, in fact, that’s the situation we’ve blindly stumbled into in the hatchery interpretation of the old observation that “you can’t put too many pink salmon in the Pacific Ocean.”
as to the rest of your comment here, “most folks” used to agree the earth was flat. most folks used to agree it was OK to burn witches at the stake. most folks, at least in parts of America, used to think salvery was just fine.
what most folks agree often has little or nothing to do with right or wrong, let alone science.
we actually have access to the latter in the modern world. there is actual data on the number of fishermen on the Kenai. it hasn’t changed much over the years except where it has declined. in 2000, there were 36,326 anglers fishing 148,077 angler days on the lower Kenai, according to ADF&G numbers; for 2016, it was 37,250 anglers fishing 141,887 days. the number of anglers (those damn tourists dropping in!) went up, but the effort actually went down.
and, of course, the effort on the Russian River has actually fallen dramatically over time. there were 29,430 anglers fishing 50,122 angler days there back in 2016. we’re now down to 19,096/39,957. the change in ratio there is interesting. the average angler fished 1.7 days back in ’96 and now it’s 2.1 days, which i’d guess – from my observations – is a reflection of there being a lot more rainbow trout anglers on the river than ever.
it was extremely rare to see a rainbow angler there in the ’80s; it’s now pretty common.
as for human carrying capacity on that river or the Kenai, it doesn’t appear anywhere near the limit. the human effort on the Kenai in particularly is now largely directed at sockeye salmon, and most of the angler pressure now comes at hardened or semi-hardened fishing sites that are easily accessible and where people don’t mind crowding.
people don’t go there to go “sport fishing.” they go there to catch salmon. there is a difference.
Craig – just because someone like myself recognizes the science behind escapement goal management does not automatically mean that I am advocating for MSY management. Many of us are fine with managing for optimum yield / abundance that is fair to all user groups. I’d advise you to focus on the Kenai River as a whole when talking about users/angler days, rather than one specific fishery. Turns out that when one fishery on the Kenai is lacking, anglers turn to others. Total angler days and harvest has continued to creep upward despite reaching somewhat of a saturation point in the late 90’s-00’s. And let’s not forget the creation of the PU fishery which has contributed to overall pressure and drastically increasing the number of fish harvested on the Kenai and Kasilof. In total, there are more boots and boats on those two rivers than ever. I’ll not argue about us reaching a carrying capacity with respect to the number of people fishing, but will just say that I think most reasonable people who actually use the Kenai would agree that continued increases in the number of boots and boats on our river would not be healthy – or enjoyable for the folks on the river. With respect to the increased Sockeye fishing – while Sockeye fishing typically happens on hardened areas of the river (gravel bars, etc.), people do not get there magically. They typically either walk along the banks of the river, or take a powerboat to their preferred fishing location, impacting habitat and adding to overall crowding. It’s pretty obvious that you either don’t spend much time on the Kenai River or are committed to downplaying at any cost the level of participation and success on our river. Alaskans First – I suspect you have little idea what you are talking about, and the fact that you are setting the bar for successful Salmon productivity at replacement level escapements lends credibility to my suspicions.The largest fisheries problem we face in Cook Inlet is the blatant misinformation that folks like you and Craig spread about our fisheries. Do you even live in Alaska?