Save the king

big king

The Kenai River’s most famous salmon

With king salmon runs faltering all around Cook Inlet, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association on Friday appealed to Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten to increase the protection offered Alaska’s most famous game fish.

Fearful the return of late-run Kenai kings is likely to mirror the weak runs now taking place in other rivers, the association asked that in-river fishing for late-run fish be restricted to catch-and-release and that commercial setnet fishermen fishing off the river’s mouth be limited to one, 24-hour opening per week.“This request seeks to avoid excessive harvest of a potentially weak run which could result in a disastrous closure of both sport and commercial fisheries later in the season,” the organization said in a public statement.

The sport-fishing season for late-run kings on the river home to a world-record, nearly 100-pound salmon opens on Sunday, and the association says there is no reason to believe the return is going to be anything but weak, as was the early-run.

King salmon, or Chinooks as they are called elsewhere, came back to the Inlet this year in numbers that have not been seen since the 1970s when Alaska salmon were in crisis.

As of Thursday, only 764 kings had been reported counted in the popular Anchor River near the south end of the Kenai Peninsula. In a good year, there would have been 10 times as  many by the same date. A weak year would still have seen five times as many.

The river is now projected to see a return of somewhere around 1,000 before the run is over. That’s between a quarter and a third of the minimum spawning goal of 3,800.

Elsewhere, the story is the same. Only 7,031 Chinook have passed a fish-counting weir on the popular Deshka River, a tributary to the Susitna River in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough just north of the state’s largest city. That’s 2,750 fish short of last year at the same time.

And in 2017, the Deshka fell about 1,200 fish shy of its minimum spawning goal. It could miss that by twice as much this year.

The early-run Kenai return, meanwhile, looks on its way to finishing with a tally of 3,000 fish in-river, the lowest on record. The minimum spawning goal is 3,900.

The early-run fishery was closed to all but catch-and-release fishing in the middle of June because of the lack of fish.  About a week later, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the late-run season would open in the lower river with a ban on bait. The bait ban significantly reduces the in-river catch by anglers, but the agency noted the effect on other fisheries.

“The management plan also indicates if bait is prohibited in this sport fishery than the personal use and commercial fishery also experience restrictions,” the state noted in the emergency order restricting the fishery. “The retention of king salmon is prohibited in the personal use (dipnet) fishery and commercial fishing periods of the Upper Subdistrict, excluding the East (Kenai Peninsula) forelands, will be open for no more than 48 hours a week.”

KRSA doesn’t think those restrictions go nearly far enough. Historically, KRSA executive Gease noted, the early king return is a strong indicator of run strength for the late run.

Given that, he argued in a prepared statement, “it’s time for action as currently fewer than 100 large king salmon are passing the counter each day and the forecast for the second run of Kenai kings is the third lowest run size on record.”

That forecast calls for 21,503 kings over 34 inches. The early-run forecast was for 5,499 of which about 55 percent have shown up.

Catch-and-release would allow for continuation of the in-river sport fishery worth tens of millions of dollars to the Kenai-Soldotna tourist economy with a minimum of dead kings. A state study concluded that on average more than 92 percent of the kings brought to the boat and then released survive to spawn.

There are no known survival rates for kings released from the commercial setnets, and historically few attempts have been made to release fish there in the name of conservation.

Though the setnet fishermen are primarily after sockeye salmon, and though the value of Chinook to commercial fishermen represents only 2 percent of the total value of the Upper Cook Inlet harvest, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, some setnetters contend they are owed a portion of the king salmon harvest because setnets have been catching Chinook since setnets were first put in the Inlet.

The setnetters have even opposed technological changes that some scientists contend might allow them to catch more sockeye while minimizing the bycatch of kings. The setnetters say they just want to go on fishing the way they’ve always fished.


17 replies »

  1. Do not want facts to get in the way but heard today from ADFG that of the 300 plus kings taken in commercial set net fishery large chinook (those counted) are estimated at 15-22. So the in river counts would increase by 22 fish if the ESSNcommercial fishery did not fish at all.

  2. “The tragedy of the commons is a term used in social science to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.”

    • “Fish resources all over the world are in danger of extinction, the major risks being:

      An excessive fishing fleet capacity and fishing effort
      Depleted fish stock
      Low profitability (operating surpluses near zero)
      High inter-annual variability of stock size and catches
      Excessive risk of collapse of fish stocks[5]

      It should be noted that alongside these factors others such as water pollution in particular with heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, nutrients from agriculture and oil, in marine and coastal areas have also played a decisive role in the reducing fish stocks[6]. The oceans have been called a common heritage resource – they belong to everyone and no one. But under the 1982 Law of the Sea, agreed to under United Nations auspices, nation can claim territorial rights to many important offshore fisheries. They can then limit access these fisheries by requiring fishing licenses.”
      this was from a wiki search of “tragedy of the commons”

  3. Craig, I noticed you did not mention one reason why KRSA idea is a bad idea.. So let me help you. First, management should be based on science and good data. Speculation can lead to all types of bad decisions. So to be clear. There is no relationship between the rivers you mentioned and the strength of the Kenai River late run chinook. The early run vs late run fell apart with the large fish adjustment as the smaller fish ( which were not counted accurately) created an artifact in past years. Next, the counters were not in the river when ADFG took action with no bait. Now KRSA wants ADFG to take further action again based on no data. But at what costs? First the integrity of the Department is at stake. If the run comes in stronger the impact on the economy was not needed. Next we know from other years no bait keeps the fisheries functioning but catch and release does not. People hear catch and release and thing run failure and start to cancel trips and leave the area. Commercial fisheries are curtailed for no reason. All based on speculation. So is the late run chinook at risk with what the Department has done to date. No and that is a fact. With the rest of July and August left in the season if data indicates more restrictive actions are needed there is plenty of time to take those actions based on science. I suspect this request by KRSA is more political than biological. Management should include health of the resource first and then impacts on the economy and other factors. The first week of July with the present restrictions s not going to threaten the health of the resource. The Department is acting responsibility and that is why we have professional managers and not KRSA speculation and hype. Also you may not be aware but commercial fisherman did request a slow approach at the start of the season so your comment is wrong about them just wanting to fish is incorrect. A number have told m they think the Department is doing a reasonable approach.

    • well, i certainly agree that 1.) you can fish hard and early, and usually catch up late. (not the scientifically soundest way to harvest, but it works; and 2.) KRSA’s proposal is based on speculation. there is no doubt about that. none whatsoever.
      but then isn’t all fisheries management based on speculation? or is there some secret method know only the Department for telling exactly what is going to come back in any given year?
      KRSA’s idea isn’t my idea, so i’m not even going to bother to take a position on it. but i am curious if you think there is some reason to believe that the late-run return of Kenai Chinook will be the exception to the rule of all Cook Inlet king stocks so far being weak, and if so what that reason might be.
      and i do have to correct you on one thing. i said commercial fishermen want to do things the way they’ve always done things, and line was written largely in reference to gear modifications that might make a difference in situations like this.

  4. If KRSA truly cared about the Kenai king they would be asking to ban catch and release.

    • Steve O.
      If KRSA asked to ban Catch and Release would you be in favor of shutting down the east side set netters? After all, they catch and keep Kings. And they have drop outs of an unknown number that die. Kind of like C&R.

      • I’m not petitioning the governing authority to shut down fishing as an organized group representing one sector of the commercial fishing community, but sure, we need every king in the river we can get. I think there are a lot of steps that could be taken that would allow the setnetters to continue to fish for sockeye before they would need to be shutdown, whereas, the same cannot be said about the catch and release of in river kings.

      • Why? Because catch and release is too often catch and “release only if you can’t get the king to your truck without anyone noticing”. Cheating the system means less kings than expected making to spawning grounds.

      • Why, Craig? Catch and release is killing kings that are needed for spawning.

      • If I get what you are implying James, you believe that anglers are gaming the system. Tell me what impact there is to the system when a King gets netted. Can it be released unharmed? Of course not. It is by then, quite dead. How about King drop outs? Yep they are dead too. And, James or Steve, do you believe that the set net fishers report every one of the Kings they put in the boat or that they see drop out graveyard dead. Let’s see. There are sometimes approx 4 to 6 hundred set net permits fishing at least two nets during an opener. If each net had just one drop out of a King the impact would be significant. But we don’t know the number even though we do know it happens. So the Dept just ignores that fact and in an unbelievable act of bias the Dept instead assesses a mortality factor for in river C&R and charges that to in river users, while not assessing the set netters any mortality for drop outs.
        The point is that you and the Dept want to put 100% of the burden of conservation on anglers and none on the set net crowd. That sound fair to you? Or to you Steve?

      • Alaskans First,

        I just want there to be kings 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

        The salmon are a shared resource of all Alaskans, I don’t fish for Kenai kings (either commercially with a net or commercially with a rod and reel, I don’t sport fish or dipnet for them either) as I would rather my share of the resource go into keeping the run around. If you want to kill a bunch of Kenai kings so you can throw them back into the water dead that’s on you, but it’s a waste of our shared resource.

        It’s hypocritical for KRSA to ask for certain restrictions in the name of conservation and ask to be allowed to kill Kenai kings at the same time.

      • James: there is way too much poaching that goes on in this state, but the Kenai king fishery would be a bad place to do it. by law, those catch and release fish can’t be brought out of the water, and there’s hardly a time on the river during fishing hours when there aren’t other boats around.
        trust me. the minute someone pulled a fish out of the river in the late-run Kenai king fishery, the screaming would start, and if someone actually put it in the boat?
        jesus, they’d probably get rammed by some lunatic guide.

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