Salmon accounting

bristol bay gillnet

The picture of success, a gillnet hung heavy with sockeye/ADF&G photo

A news analysis

UPDATE: This story was edited on Aug. 7 to reflect the loss the city of Kenai took on the dipnet fishery, a historic city moneymaker, and to update in-river sockeye numbers.


With the Kenai River – Alaska’s most famous salmon stream – stumbling toward a bare minimum sockeye salmon escapement, which it might not make, and commercial fishermen madder than hell in the belief they were cheated out of their share of the catch, it is a good time to look at the numbers.

Without doubt, it was a bad year for commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet, a very bad year. But it was a bad year for all sockeye salmon fishermen and, comparatively, the gillnetters did not suffer nearly as badly as a sympathetic Gov. Bill Walker was led to believe when he met with them.

They did shoulder a bigger share of the “burden of conservation,” as commercial fishermen like to say, but it still looks like the ruling minority of 1,000 active, commercial fishing permit holders will end up with some 65 to 70 percent of the sockeye harvest, just down from the 73 percent they were expected to get.

So let’s get on with the accounting which starts way back in November of last year when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) produced its annual 2018 Upper Cook Inlet Sockeye Salmon Forecast. The forecast called for a significantly worse return to the Inlet than commercial fishermen have come to expect in recent times, but by no means a disaster.

As forecast, the harvest was to have come in at about 100,000 fish above the low return of 2017, which was about 1 million below a 20-year average inflated by large runs of sockeye in the 2000s and at the very start of this decade.

The five-year, average, commercial harvest counting this year is now down around 1.9 million, though some commercial fishermen still cling to the idea the 4.1 million average of the period 1980 to 2000 was the norm.

That period of great productivity, it should be noted, came after an unusual cold period in Alaska which produced an average harvest of only 1.1 million per year in the 1960s and 1970s.

cook inlet sockeye runs

ADF&G graphic

1972 Replay

This year, commercial fishermen saw a return to the bad old days of 1972 when the wayback machine was only supposed to have gone to 2001.

As it turned out, the ADF&G forecast for 2018 was way off. But here is the expectation state biologists established for the upper Inlet:

  • Total Run 4.6 million
  • Escapement (spawning) 2.0 million
  • UCI Commercial Harvest 1.9 million
  • Other UCI Harvests 0.7 million

Those “Other UCI Harvests” go largely to sport fishermen and Alaskan-only, personal-use dipnetters on the Kenai River, although there are small sport and dipnet fisheries on the Kasilof and other streams. Still, the harvests are so small compared to the Kenai that they can be ignored in a statistical discussion of who got the sockeye.

At the time of the ADF&G forecast, 43 percent of the 2018 run – the so-called escapement – was committed to streams and rivers to ensure Alaskans all have sockeye to catch in the future; 41 percent was earmarked for commercial fishermen; and 15 percent was to be split between personal-use, sport and a handful of subsistence fishermen.

All of this began to change in mid-July when it became obvious the forecast was flawed.

At mid-season, to help boost the commercial harvest in a low-return year, ADF&G reduced the escapement allocation for the Kenai River from 1 million to 900,000. It now looks unlikely that goal will be met.

When the Department closed the river to all dipnetting and sport fishing a week ago, it said it hoped to meet a bare minimum spawning goal of 700,000. It looks like that goal will be met if 20,000 or more sockeye per day continue to sneak into the Kenai for another week or so.

The count today was over 600,000. Historically, the run is near 90 percent of the return and would be expected to fall fast from this point forward, but it looks to have a larger than expected late component, which would be a good thing.

There are, however, questions about how many pink salmon the sonar is counting as sockeye. The Kenai is full of sockeye-size humpies this year. The state apportions the sonar catch based on the ratio of humpies and sockeye seen in an intermittent test fishery downstream from the sonar. The accuracy of that method of sorting the count is, however, an unknown.


Where’d the fish go?

Nobody can see the future perfectly and the return number is still in flux, but it looks like by the time all is said and done, the escapement that ADF&G forecast will be down about 500,000, the commercial catch down about 1.2 million, and the “other” down about 400,000.

Neither sport nor dipnet catches have been officially tallied yet, but state biologists say estimates are possible based on past years. The year 2016 saw a slow trickle of sockeye into the Kenai very similar to what happened this year.

The 2006 dipnet catch was under 128,000 but for mathematical simplicity it will be rounded up to 150,000 here. The 2018 sport fishery, which went from a three-fish limit to a one-fish limit and was then closed altogether, will probably end up harvesting about 150,000 sockeye as well, according to the best estimates.

If all these numbers are added together – 1.5 million escapement, plus the 700,000 commercial harvest and the 300,000 million dipnet/sport harvest, the total sockeye return comes in at about 2.5 million, or about 54 percent of the forecast.

One might note, however, that this number is about 70 percent of the lower boundary of a forecast range of 3.3 to 5.5 million. It’s probably unfair to judge the forecast by the best guess within a broad range even if that is something Alaskans have been encouraged to do by the way the information is presented.

Of a shrunken return of sockeye approximately 800,000 fish short of the low end of the forecast range, 60 percent ended up being used for escapement. That is good; streams full of spawning salmon ensure there will be salmon in the future. Another 28 percent of the return went to commercial fishermen.  And the remaining 12 percent was largely split between dipnetters and anglers.

Battleground Kenai

Where the Kenai fish wars get serious, of course, is where the allocation between users begins. Most, though far from all sockeye harvesters, agree that optimum escapements should be maintained. The main objection comes from a minority of commercial fishermen who believe that no matter what the science says, radically smaller spawning goals would produce better average harvests.

Some of the latter group might be happy with only 600,000 spawners in the Kenai if that is how things turn out, but most won’t. But let’s get back to the human allocation issue.

With only approximately 1 million sockeye killed this year, the commercial fishery lost about 63 percent of its forecast harvest of 1.9 million and the other users lost about 57 percent of their forecast harvest of 700,000.

Head to head, the pre-season forecast called for commercial fishermen to get 73 percent of the harvest and other users the remaining 27 percent.

In the end, with a harvest of about 1 million, the split looks to have shifted 70-30 if the estimates on sport and dipnet harvests are accurate. Commercial fishermen think the estimates low, but the estimates might well be high.

The City of Kenai was reporting business was down about a third at its popular pay-to-park dipnet area along the north beach at the river’s mouth.  The dipnet parking lot has historically been the city’s only profit-making public service.

Because of the drop in dipnet traffic following reports of dipnetters needing to put in a lot of time and effort to harvest very few fish, the city reported gross revenue at the lot fell from $547,000 last year to $375,000 this year – a 31 percent drop.

The city anticipated $578,000 in revenue this year, KSRM Radio in Kenai reported. The city lost about $100,000 in 2016 when the dipnet fishery was closed early, the Peninsula Clarion reported earlier this year. 

It is losing about $200,000 this year, but the Clarion earlier reported a $274,651 balance in the dipnet account at the end of fiscal 2017.

And maybe despite how bad the dipnet fishery was for Kenai, commercial fishermen could be right about a higher than thought dipnet catch. So to fudge the numbers in their direction and to remove the rounding error (the actual commercial catch was 677,817) let’s say the split could be as low as 65-35 no matter how unlikely that appears.

Both the sport and dipnet fisheries are density dependent.  If the river is plugged with fish, they catch a lot. If there are few fish in the river, their catch plummets.

There was fewer than 544,000 sockeye in the river when the fishery closed to angling on Saturday. That was only about 65 percent of the number in river last year when the sport fishery got going good in August. There is no August sockeye fishery this year.

And the closure was preceded by a two-third reduction in the sport fishery limit from three fish to one, and the early closure of the dipnet fishery with only about 60 percent the number of fish in-river as for the same time in 2017.

Gubernatorial tampering

With Walker now having entered the fray to tell commercial fishermen, “I believe the most important part of what we do is not just about science. We need to hear from people whose livelihoods who are impacted by it.”

And Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten adding that “we will not ignore economic difficulties, but it’s a balancing act here that’s very difficult to deal with at times.”

There are some obvious questions to be asked:

  1.  What should be the percentage split be between the commercial and other fisheries? Was the 73-27 split in the pre-season forecast unfair to commercial interests? Should it be 75-25 commercial or 80-20 or 90-10 or some other number?
  2. If the split is further shifted toward the commercial fishery, who should give up fish? The dipnet fishery, which is limited to Alaskans looking to fill their freezers with sockeye, or the sport fishery which has become a mainstay of a Kenai Peninsula tourism industry the local newspaper now says is “the second largest private sector employer on the peninsula, behind health care….and is responsible for 25 percent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s total collected sales tax.”
  3. Lastly, in years of weak returns, such as this one, should dipnetters and anglers – as some commercial fishermen have suggested – be ordered out of the water to “watch and wait” if the escapement counter lags behind the projected in-river return needed to meet escapement?

Fish and Game data would indicate such a rule would have taken the “other” fisheries out of the picture on or about July 14 of this year, and kept the dipnetters and anglers out of the sockeye fishery for the rest of the year.

That could have made another 100,000 to 200,000 sockeye available to the commercial fishery unless the rule triggered earlier ADF&G concerns about run strength, leading to immediate commercial closures.

The commercial fishery harvested about 84,000 sockeye on July 16. Would that harvest have been allowed with the sport and dipnet fisheries already closed?

Several commercial openings followed. Would they have been allowed with sport and dipnet fishermen still shut down and political pressure on ADF&G likely growing?

And if the commercial fisheries had gone on in this situation, would the outcome have been worth more or less to the state?

If the commercial fishery was able to catch another 200,000 sockeye thanks to such closures, it would be worth about $1.5 mllion to commercial fishermen at $1.50 per pound on average for a sockeye at a 5-pound average weight.

Split among about 1,000 limited entry permit holders who are active, that averages out to $1,500 per permit. So individual fishermen would have pocketed as much money as a Permanent Fund Dividend dividend and a half.

If, of course, they were Alaska residents. Eighty-two percent of  commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet claim resident status. How many of them qualify as PFD residents is unknown. The state has varying standards for who is and isn’t a resident, and the standard for commercial fishing residence is the most lenient.

The state’s Commercial Fishery Entry Commission say “an individual is a resident of this state if, on the date of permit application, issuance, or renewal, and throughout the 12-month period before that date, that individual maintained their domicile in this state and neither claimed residency in another state, territory, or country nor obtained benefits under a claim of residency in another state, territory, or country.”

The legal definition of a “domicile” is different from “residence.”

“‘Domicile’ means a legal residence which is the place where a person has fixed dwelling with an intention of making it his/her permanent home,” according to “As the term domicile includes residence, the scope and significance of the term domicile is larger than the term residence.  An individual may have several residences whereas; s/he will have only one domicile.”

An Alaska commercial fisherman could actually live in another state or country for most of the year and hang onto CFEC residency if he or she had a home in Alaska and considered that “his/her permanent home.”

In the eyes of the CFEC, Roland Maw – the short-lived, outlaw member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries – would have been fine spending a lot of time in a house in Montana but claiming Alaska as his domicile if only he hadn’t tried to save a few bucks by obtaining a Montana resident hunting license.

Oce the one-time director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA), the region’s most powerful fishing lobby, picked up that resident Montana license, he had bigger problems than the CFEC. He is scheduled to go on trial this fall for stealing PFDs. The Alaska Permanent Fund contains the same clause as the CFEC regarding benefits obtained as  a resident of another state.

Managing in the dark

But residency is a small issue here. The bigger issue is this:

If you have to weigh a $1,500-per-commercial-fisherman bonus, or less, against a sockeye-angling closure sure to cause havoc for that Kenai Peninsula tourism business, what do you do?

Or even a bigger commercial-fishermen bonus against the tourism economy, what do you do?

How do the costs versus benefits work out?  Does the Kenai Peninsula economy win or lose by imposing restrictions on sport and dipnet fisheries to put another 100,000 or 200,000 sockeye in the holds of the boats of Kenai commercial fishermen?

And finally, the best question of all:

Do Walker, Cotten or any others in state government have a clue as to the answer to the previous question given the fact there isn’t a single economist in ADF&G charged with gathering the data needed to make an informed decision.

In fact, there isn’t a single economist in ADF&G, period.

An agency that has long prided itself on data-based management has for decades managed the state’s fisheries without a thought as to the economic data. One could call this economic mismanagement, but it’s not.

It’s economic non-management, which might be even worse.



45 replies »

  1. Just through the Pearson report. While pointing fingers in a few directions, it does clearly state that pink salmon fry releases reduced spawning herring biomass and quotes a paper by Deriso from 2008. Competition for food sources and predation by the Pinks were both cited as causes. Cannot find anything on the College Fjord glaciers melting. It also seems to point at direct food source competition with Sockeyes. Thanks for the links.

    • Bill: that story makes no sense. “More humpbacks than normal have been reported in the Bering Sea and offshore in the Gulf of Alaska.” offshore in the Gulf of Alaska is where The Blob was focused.

      the warm waters didn’t really push into the Inside Passag, if you were following the temperature charts. probably because of the outflow of freshwater from melting glaciers.

      if i had to take a guess here at what happened, i’d go with the increased freshwater flows the upset the apple cart in Prince William Sound. go read the EVOS study.

      and who says The Blob took down sockeyes? the Fraser River looks to be getting a good return, and those fish would have been out in the middle of The Blob.

      it’s not a simple situation of “oh yeah, The Blob did” this and that and everything else.

      • Just because the warm water was in the Gulf, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t cause feed problems in SE Alaska. The situation for whales has been going on for several years and I don’t believe there is such an increase in fresh water entering those SE waters, either. I first heard the bit about Glacier Bay whales on the radio yesterday and then this article popped up this morning. You think it doesn’t make sense but that’s just your opinion-take it up with the scientists. I’m just adding some information to the mix of things that appear to be associated with “the blob.”
        I remember something about humpbacks being concentrated around Dutch harbor quite a few months ago eating herring there and thought it interesting as they communicate over long distances. I suspect that they are quite successful at finding feed because they appear to be able to tell each other. Unlike the Common Murres and sockeyes, who aren’t able to communicate over long distances, that explains to a certain extent why the whales aren’t dying as yet.
        The situation is very complex and your statement: ‘that story makes no sense. “More humpbacks than normal have been reported in the Bering Sea and offshore in the Gulf of Alaska.” offshore in the Gulf of Alaska is where The Blob was focused.’ is truly what doesn’t make sense, Craig. As I read the story, the problem appears to be the usual feed (for whales) has disappeared in at least SE Alaska. You seem to think the situation would only occur where the blob was centered but I suspect it is much more complex than that and some scientists also feel that way, according to the article.

      • Further, Craig-nobody I know of is saying “the Blob took down the sockeyes,” either. However, I would be shocked to hear any scientist unwilling to attribute some of the sockeye issues to the several years-long Blob.
        Anyway, as I read these ktoo articles, they give some scientific theories for some obvious problems for our fish and wildlife lately. I posted them as some ideas being kicked about by scientists but you aren’t having any of it. While these are just your opinions here, your arguments supporting your opinions are poorly thought out IMO.
        I do agree that it’s not a simple situation of “The Blob did this”, but neither of these two articles suggested anything of the kind.

    • Bill or Craig- Would either of you know what the primary food source is for herring? Still hung up on what that massive release of smolts does to the food chain, particularly in PWS. Have heard all kinds of speculation as to why the herring have not come back but nothing definitive.

      • Bob, Craig refers to the EVOS study that in a nutshell says the EV oil spill caused some grief for those herring but that the long-term results (for herring in PWS) were more to do with increased fresh-water introduced by all the College Fjord glaciers melting.
        There are many who don’t buy into that conclusion (Steiner for one) but the study made sense, to me. Essentially, while the spill certainly had short-term effects, those would have been remedied without that increased fresh-water issue. Plenty of herring fishermen don’t buy that argument, however.

      • there are overlaps. they have not been all that well studied:

        Pearson et al did look at PWS specifically early this decade and concluded this:

        “Beyond regional-scale environmental factors, two factors specific to the sound influence the population dynamics of herring and are likely impeding recovery. First, pink salmon fry releases have increased to about 600 million annually and may disrupt feeding in young herring, which require adequate nutrition for growth and overwintering survival. Juvenile pink salmon and age-1 herring co-occur in nearshore areas of bays in late spring and summer, and available data on dietary overlap indicates potential competition between the age-1 juvenile herring and juvenile pink salmon. Field studies demonstrate that juvenile herring reduce food intake substantially in the presence of juvenile pink salmon.”

        food competition, you might note is one issue. the other is with predator massing. the ocean is really a crazy damn jungle.

    • Rashah McChesney’s piece seems a little short without any mention of what the release of almost 300,000,000 smolts(mostly pinks) from the hatcheries could be contributing to the size and number issue. Is that rocket science?

      • “Another factor, Farley said, is pink salmon. There’s some evidence that they compete with sockeye for food in the North Pacific. But Farley is quick to point out that the role pink salmon play in sockeye salmon deaths is still in question.

        Farley also works with the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission which has scientists from several countries including Russia, Japan and the United States. Farley said some researchers on that commission have looked at sockeye salmon scales and calculated growth rates of the salmon during different life history stages. They’ve found a pattern of growth that shows sockeye salmon aren’t growing as fast in years when there are a lot of pink salmon in the same place.”

        OK Bob, they didn’t mention hatcheries or 300,000,000 smolts but you get the idea. These guys are scientists, clearly, and they are studying the issue. That they haven’t contacted you for your opinions is obviously chapped your ass. What else is new?

      • Bill- I would think any scientist would have to consider the addition of three hundred million smolts into Alaska waters as a primary cause. Think there is data from B.C. regarding retarded growth in there “enhanced” fisheries, mainly for Chums. And it is frustrating to watch the glacial pace of bureaucratic inertia when common sense and data from a neighboring country is pointing to a fixable part of a complicated problem. Will look for some Chapstick.

      • Bob, it’s one thing to have a theory but frankly, the idea that these scientists would look at this situation as a “primary cause” is absurd IMO.
        It’s stated that the relationship between pinks and sockeyes are being studied with some results and no scientist is going to treat a hatchery pink any different than a wild one. We have a complex situation where not all sockeyes have experienced problems and it appears, to me, that some folks are attempting to get a handle on why. I’m encouraged that these studies are being done and am hoping for some solution.
        Whatever the solution, little will be done without the scientific backing to support said solution. We really have no options other than to wait for that science IMO.

  2. One thing the city of Kenai has done for years is forward financing. Wonder how much is in that account? That forward funding is for equipment and I believe expenses to prosecute the dipnet fishery. Just like someone else posted they just didn’t make their projections. That being said they do get monies from the state or at least did

  3. With the Walker regime out this December, lets hope the new Dunleavy administration rules more fairly for 4 years.

  4. Close all fishing for 5 years and study what the results are before opening any Kenai fisheries. Short term pain for long term gain.

  5. The first thing I have to take issue with is the City of Kenai did not loose money, they failed to meet their projections. It would be super if I could tell the IRS I lost $500000 this year because I didn’t win the lottery. Second, projections are just that. If a run fails every step needs to be taken to ensure survival of the run. This means that early on in the run when there are signs of failure conservation measures must be taken. We tend to talk about these rivers like they are singular but they are systems. Every spawning stream has different timing in the overall run and each stream needs to be protected.

    • Wow! You are sounding like the ADF&G fish managers who are saying more and more frequently that we “failed to meet projections”.

  6. Three more days like the last three and the river hits the minimum. Ten more days like the last ten, and they might even open fishing for reds again. If you look objectively at the last 4-5 years data it almost seems like we’ve been trying to spread the run out and get an August red fishery, or at least put 250,000-500,000 reds in the river in August which would lead to an August red fishery.

    • yes, if. big if.

      the computer at this point projects about 660,000, but nobody really knows if the apportionment given to pinks – many of which are as big or bigger than reds this year – is accurate.

      i wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for ADF&G to reopen the sockeye fishery.

      • Pretty hollow victory even if the minimum SEG is reached. It will come at the expense of all the users. Something has to change! The future estimates for Chinook and now, Sockeye are more for bad things than for good ones. If something significant is not done soon we may lose harvestable surpluses of UCI and SEAK stocks. And perhaps sooner than we think. It is time for the BOF and the Dept to start making hard decisions and stop making political ones.

      • The BOF and Governor’s office needs to reallocate as per the electorates wishes. Not the wishes of the commercial fishing industry. Review escapement number and get them before ANY commercial harvest is allowed. Personal use, subsistence and sport before comm.

      • ADF&G says they went over 660,000 yesterday with a daily total of more than 55,000 and now 3 days over 30,000.

        I’m not holding my breath yet but there are still a lot of days left in the month and with numbers like this anything could happen.

      • I am suspicious of the Dept’s count of sockeye. I am hearing that there are very few sockeye being seen above the sonar. But there appears to be lots of Pinks. I know that some want to argue that the Sockeye runs are simply later than in the past. But to have this many sockeye counted this late does not add up. And when people who have been on the river for scores of years say they are not seeing what the Dept claims are strong pulses of sockeye, then I suspect that the counting is flawed at best and at worst rigged to show escapements being achieved. Wish I had more faith in our Commissioner and commercial fish director.

      • Time for change,

        What do you make of the count for yesterday of 11,000? Did they miss some fish? How are people seeing the fish in the Kenai and able to tell if they are sockeye or pinks?

      • Steve O: the dept has summer help monitoring the sonar which shows icons of fish swimming by. Unless it is a little over 30” it is presumed to be either a Red, Chum, Silver, or a Pink. To determine the ratio of these species and determine the number of Reds they do what is called “net apportionment”. During daylight hours,and mostly just working hours this time of year, they put out a section of gill net for a few minutes several times a day and then count the species of fish that are caught. Regrettably all most all fish gill netted are dead when the count takes place. At the end of the day a calculation is made of the percenage of reds caught and that percentage is attributed to the total number of fish counted going through the sonar window for that day. Normally this time of year there are more pinks running and the silvers are coming in as well. To come up with 50,000 reds it is entirely likely that well over a 100,000 fish were counted at the sonar. And given the 11,000 reds just reported it is hard to believe that just a day or so ago that there were 50,000. I am very skeptical about these counts. By the time the data is passed through all the channels in the Dept it would not surprise me if Pinks get redder. The Dept just does not want to admit failures of any kind.

      • TforC, that sounds to me like a reasonable way to get at the numbers for those different salmon species. Obviously, mistakes can be made, depending on how meticulous those folks are manning the gillnets but, other than that, how would you collect the data?
        Your suggesting the numbers get tweaked along the way are just not believable IMO.

      • I understand how they come to the numbers they come to, I was just wondering what you make of the numbers going from 55,000 to 11,000 are the numbers cooked all the time not or just some of the time? Seems like it would be a pretty easy thing to prove if they are getting cooked after the sampling is done because those numbers don’t lie..if 50% of the sample fish are reds then 50% of the sonar fish of a certain size are reds. I’m not saying you are wrong about the books being cooked, it’s just that both sides of the commercial interests think the books are cooked against what they want and that makes me skeptical about people who claim the books are being cooked without any proof. Maybe you’re like me and have no financial interest in salmon.

        I still don’t understand your comment about people seeing or not seeing reds vs pinks above the sonar.

  7. The most important part of the whole discussion should put the escapement first.
    Why not let at least 25% in the river before anyone is allowed to fish to ensure future fish?

    • because it’s difficult to prosecute a commercial salmon fishery in that way, and scientifically, you want to remove fish from the start, the middle and the end of a run to avoid messing up the natural shape of the return.

      theoretically, if you only fish the latter parts of a run you can spark a shift to earlier and earlier run timing, the consequences of which are unknown.

      practically, this would invariably force heavy fishing on the end of the run which would cause all sorts of problems on the Kenai River. at a preseason in-river goal of 1.1 million last year, the Kenai wouldn’t have opened for sport fishing and dipnetting until July 21.

      the fish started to swarm the river July 24. they were then entering the Kenai at more than 50,000 per day from the 25th through the 29th. having caught nothing prior in the commercial fishery, ADF&G would probably have opened all commercial fisheries to stem the flood of fish and get commercial fishermen their share.

      that would mess with the dipnetting and likely lead to a lot more king salmon interception, which is, at these low king return levels, a problem.

      • Unfortunately this is exactly what is happening to the beginning of the run…. the fish have been heavily fished at the beginning of the run and seem to be returning later and later.

      • I disagree with your thought on it lowering the king levels….if there is limited or no fishing until there is some fish in the river it would allow the kings to get by all those nets and no incidental casualties. My point is the escapements especially the king’s should come first

      • it would let more kings in early. most of those tend to be small kings. the later you go in the run, in general, the higher the percentage of “big kings.”

        there’s no way of knowing until the experiment was done how this would shake out, but i have a gut feeling we might lose a significant number of those big, old hens.

        the escapement has to be the first priority, but that’s easy enough to do. ADF&G could easily have saved 100,000 sockeye or more this year. they had ample reason to believe the Inlet might be weak. but they let the drifters on the sockeye anyway to minimize king harvests (a strategy for several years now), and then ran into a problem.

    • The personal use fishery should be a priority above commercial or sport, end of story. That said, escapement trumps all. A commercial permit is the right to try and catch fish when they are there to be had, not a guarantee of fish.

  8. Craig, You are a good journalist. But you really should stop writing about “fish wars”. Because your personal biases turn your articles into the fake news that you hypocritically rail against. You always pit the “minority” of commercial fishermen against the sportsfisherpeople. That’s stupid. Comm guys are the middlemen. If you want to compare apples to apples, then compare end users. Compare sports fishermen to people that buy fish. The people that buy Alaskan salmon way outnumber those that catch their own. But you knowingly avoid mentioning this fact, so you can wrap your biases in cherry picked statistics and serve up a steaming pile of fake news. How about news on Roglof and crediters, or what is behind the K2 crash. Anything but your twisted fish wars blather. Thank you.

    • James: buyers aren’t “harvesters.” buyers are buyers.

      harvester to harvester is a direct, apple-to-apple comparison.

      i would, however, agree that the economic value of the catch of various harvesters can vary, and as a died-in-the-wool, Alaska-firster, i want the maximum economic value to stay in Alaska, which makes me wonder.

      did you actually read the story?

      if you did, maybe you can answer the questions at the end for all of us, because they have everything to do with determining the economic value of salmon harvested in Alaska. there is no denying that, in general, if we can get a sport fisherman to come to Alaska and catch his own salmon, we’ll make a lot more money in Alaska than if we kill a fish and ship it to him.

      but as a practical matter, we don’t have the infrastructure to handle that many fishermen and some places, say Bristol Bay, are at too high of a pricepoint for most purchasers. so the people who buy Alaska salmon instead of catching their own will long be the majority, though more and more of them are buying farmed fish.

      the number of buyers is not mentioned because it’s a non-issue. how much those buyers are worth to us is reflected in the economic value of the fish in Alaska. it doesn’t even matter how many of them there are, be they a thousand or a million. all that matters is what they do to salmon prices and how that reflects back in the commercial fishery in terms of economic value.

      the dipnet fishery? who knows. i have no idea of its economic value, and neither does anyone else. the average dipnetter might be spending less than 50 cents per pound to get his/her sockeye (like i do) or way more. if they’re all getting them at a cost as low as mine, limits should probably be reduced because the state is losing money. the fish have become something of a welfare benefit.

      but if, as my commercial friends sometimes tell me, dipnetters are spending a fortune on gear and fuel to catch a few fish, then we should be encouraging more people to dipnet.

      lastly, you clearly you have no idea as to my personal biases, and if you think this is fake news, well, all i can do is feel sorry for your intellectual lass of perspective.

      the numbers aren’t cherry picked, they’re really. and they underline the difficult task the Board of Fisheries faces if it wants to do its job in a fair and honest manner.

      there aren’t enough fish to satisfy all economic interests fully. it’s pick and chose time. the choices aren’t easy, especially given the reality in Cook Inlet is that at a couple million sockeye per year at present prices there aren’t even enough sockeye to support the economic interests of an oversubscribed commercial fishery.

    • James,
      Don’t you know Craig won’t talk about plane crashes…one of those “isms” in reporting, must be bad for the economy to say most pilots flying tourists around have little to no experience in AK wilderness.
      That seems the case in this latest crash into Denali.
      The press is still calling it Thunder mtn, although it is “thunder ridge” to anyone who climbed the mountain.
      Obviously the ridge was in the clouds and this pilot did not know the terrain.
      Small aircraft like ” the Beaver” were not ment to fly tourists at 17K elevation.
      This is the second “Beaver” to crash in a month in the Valley…first one was over weight on Willow Lake.
      Maybe small old aircraft are not as safe as the industry wants us to believe?

  9. Good summary Craig Medred. Management of mixed stock, salmon fisheries where multiple user groups benefit is all about achieving sustainable escapements and making trade offs between users. Your analysis does a great job of highlighting the potential trade offs. I’d sure like to watch the Alaska Board of Fisheries have this objective discussion.

  10. You can bet the farm on the Dept claiming that they made minimum numbers in the Kenai. With the Reds, Chums, pinks, and silvers going by the counters, and all somewhat similar in size, there will be a lot of fish counted as Reds. Yes, I know all about the net apportionment that is used but a few minutes every hour or so only during working hours. But it is very arbitrary and without larger samples not worth much. My guess is that there will be much error associated with it and biased towards counting as many Reds as possible. Are the minimum goals that are being thrown out there spawning goals. Or are they in river goals from which harvest above the counter must be subtracted in order to calculate the number of spawners. How does the Dept know how many fish caught above the counter?

    • the 700,000 is a spawning goal. since there are now no in-river fisheries above the sonar, fish counted since the closure are in the clear. last i heard, the Department was estimating a 100,000 or so catch before the closure. if you take that out of the total number, we could well come up short.

  11. With a majority in the State via population centers in the greater Anchorage area, Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks that are PU or Sportfish types how is it that the allocations to the Comm guys are skewed the wrong way? “Sliding” escapement scales to suit the Comm fleet ends up reducing the upstream transfer of nutrients causing long term problems for more than just the fishery. Please don’t even get me started on the Comm fish myth of dreaded “overescapement”.Time for a ballot initiative?

  12. Give it rest Craig, your monologue, is starting to get monotonous. Face it, BB was the only salmon region, that had a decent ‘18 sockeye return, in AK. All the rest have struggled, to achieve their SEG.
    On the other hand, the Skeena & Fraser River systems (which have been in a down cycle, last 5 years), are in the start, of a healthy ‘18 sockeye return. Both Canadian & US fishers are recording decent catches, for this time & date.
    US seine, gill net & reef fishers, will have a decent season over next 3 weeks. Good price also, no matter the tariffs!
    Alaskan sockeye salmon returns, will rebound again. It is a cycle. Not a disaster! Let it go!

    • James: i hope to God this is NOT a cycle. the 1970s were “a cycle.” if we’re lucky, this is an aberration. if it’s a cycle, we’re in trouble.

      and you might note, that classically when the PNW has been up on salmon, we have been down. so news from Canada is good for Canadians, but not necessarily good for Alaskans.

      “Upon entering the North Pacific Ocean the postsmolts migrate north and westward in band within 35 km off the coasts of British Columbia and Central Alaska until they reach the overwintering grounds south of Alaska during late autumn and early December.”

      it could be their fish found more feed along that coast than our fish found farther north. if you go back to Randall Peterman etal in the 1980s, “Our results suggest that the shared environmental causes of variation in survival rates of sockeye salmon operate
      mainly on regional spatial scales (i.e., within Bristol Bay stocks and within Fraser River stocks). This is true for both
      relatively rapidly changing sources of variation on the interannual scale and those on the decadal scale. The limited evidence
      available suggests that these sources of environmental variation arise during early marine life (and to some extent
      in fresh water in the Bristol Bay stocks). Tests of specific environmental mechanisms affecting survival rates of sockeye
      salmon will be the subject of another paper.”

      “regional scale…early marine life….”

      weak sockeye runs for Copper River, Cook Inlet, east Kodiak Is./Afognak, down into Northern Southeast would certainly qualify as regional. so did something happen in early marine life there? if it did, was it a one-time event or the start of a cycle. if it’s the latter, we’re in trouble.

      if you’re bored, stop reading. but i find the science pretty damn interesting.

      and the political consequences – if this is a cycle and not anomaly – are large not just for Cook Inlet but for the Copper River basin. if we’re looking at a cycle of weak returns on the Copper River and in Cook Inlet, the Board of Fish really needs a whole lot more economic data, and then it’s going to have to make some damn tough calls.

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