More strange

2016-06-26 12.47.44

The prize – a pile of Alaska sockeye salmon/Craig Medred photo

Commercial fishermen were back at work in Cook Inlet on Thursday in an unprecedented effort to mop up some of the remnants of a late return of sockeye salmon to the Kenai River.

About 4.6 million of the prized fish were forecast to hit Upper Cook Inlet this year. Fewer than 2.7 million have so far been accounted for to date: a little over 800,000 – a large number of them Kasilof River fish – caught by commercial fishermen; about 1.3 million that escaped into the Kasilof and Kenai rivers to spawn; 200,000 to 300,000 thought to be caught by anglers and personal used dipnet fishermen; and maybe 200,000 to 300,000 that made it up the Susitna-Yentna River drainage in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage.

The Kenai – arguably the state’s most famous river – looked headed for disaster in late July when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed commercial, personal-use dipnet and sport fisheries for sockeye because of a weak return.

The New York Times just days ago  lamented the “startling disruptions” in the fishery, but an unusual surge of August sockeye had by then helped the Kenai meet its in-river goal. Fish and Game on Tuesday announced the river’s rod-and-reel fishery was reopening.

Based on what looks now to have been a nine-day late return, state commercial fisheries biologist Brian Marston on Thursday estimated 45,000 or so sockeye might still be in the Inlet on their way to the river.

He didn’t, however, expect many commercial fishermen to take the opportunity to head out to try to find them.  Most of the 573 people who own limited entry permits allowing them to drift gillnet for salmon in the Inlet have called it quits after a year that can only be described as bad.

Marston expected a catch of maybe 5,000 fish for the 12-hour, Thursday opening. Most years that would be considered tiny, but this isn’t like most years.

“Five-thousand sockeye spread out over 50 boats equals approximately 100 sockeye each,” he messaged. “I had openers this year where many caught less than that.”

The opening was expected to draw objections from sport fishermen, not so much because it happened but because of the precedent it set. The commercial fishery in the Inlet usually shuts down on Aug. 15 when the catch of sockeye starts to plummet and the catch of coho, or what Alaskans usually call silvers, starts to rise.

Earlier commercial fishing closures this year because of the lack of sockeye, however, allowed a lot of coho that would have been caught to escape gill-snagging driftnets and make it into the Kenai and the many rivers of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to the north.

Given the situation, Marston said, the state agency decided the unusual late opening was warranted.

“The optimum escapement goal for Kasilof River (sockeye) has been exceeded,” he explained. “The in-river goal for Kenai river is achieved.

“Coho stocks in northern Cook Inlet in Deshka (River), Little Su (River), and Fish Creek, have all been projected to make or exceed coho goals, and the sport limits have been raised.

“Given that they have achieved the escapement goal, I feel that opening one gear group’s fishery (drift) , for one day, in an area (part of which was already open by regulation normally)  to get at stocks of late Kenai and Kasilof sockeye as well as other species, is sustainable for sockeye, coho and pink salmon.”

Run timing


kenai run timing

Graphic courtesy Ray Beamesderfer, Cramer Fish Sciences

Strong August returns of sockeye to the Kenai are not unknown, but they are unusual. The historic midpoint of the sockeye run is July 23, and it has only slid past the end of July twice in the last 37 years.

As the situation stands at the moment, with the in-river sonar count now topping 950,000, Aug. 1 would end up being the midpoint for 2018. But if another 40,000 sockeye show up before the sonar is scheduled to be shut down on Aug. 24 that could shift to Aug. 2.

Why the fish showed up late to the Kenai, as well as to the fabled Copper River to the south, remains a mystery. The Copper, like the Kenai, lagged far behind escapement goals in May and June, and as a result fisheries were closed.

Returns slowly began creep upward toward goals in July, however, and the in-river fisheries were reopened. By the time the Copper sonar was turned off on July 28, more than 700,000 sockeye – just short of the top of the optimum goal range at 750,000 – had made it into the river.

What happened after that is unclear, but dipnetters who hit the river in August – when the dipnet fishery is usually pretty much kaput – were reporting some phenomenal fishing.

“Best fishing we’ve seen in years!” Mark Hem reported on the Hem Charters Facebook page Monday. “Last Thursday, Friday, & Saturday everyone limited out or got what they wanted. One day we brought in over 1,500 fish.”

Hem runs a small fishing charter business out of Chitina, a community of fewer than 130 people on the Edgerton Highway about 250 miles east of Anchorage. The community is Alaska famous for the “Where the Hell is Chitina” bumper sticker spawned by the dipnetters who flock there.

Hem’s business is limited by the fact the dipnet fishery is restricted to Alaska residents only. At the fishery’s peak, more than 10,000 people obtained permits, but the number this year is expected to be half that or less.

Many reportedly decided to forego the $15 cost of the permit when the commercial fishery at the mouth of the river started off slow and went downhill  (there were only three fishing periods before the season closed for the year) and the sonar failed to start clicking.

By then, the handwriting was on the wall for in-river subsistence, dipnet and sport fisheries.

When the in-river fisheries started closing in early June, the sockeye run was almost 100,000 fish behind the goal for the date, and state fishery managers were saying they expected the dipnet fishery to remain closed all summer. That dissuaded many a dipnetter.

So, too, the slow sockeye fishing on the Kenai – 160 road miles south of Anchorage – in July. The City of Kenai, which has a money-making business renting parking spots and campsites to dipnetters, reported its revenue this year dropped $172,000 from the more than a half-million dollars it took in the year before.

The city had been projecting revenues of $578,000 this year, but collected only $375,000. Still, the dipnetters who were persistent reported they got fish. The fishing was difficult, but not a disaster.

The same could not be said for the commercial fishery. Even though prices were reported to be up over $1.50 per pound, the value of this year’s catch is expected to come in at a fraction of what the fishery was worth last year when commercial fishermen harvested 1.7 million sockeye worth almost $20 million, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 

Few of the 1,000 or so drift and setnet permit holders who actually fished made enough to support themselves. The average return was under $20,000 per fisherman for the season. The commercial fishery has already become a hobby for most of the fishermen, and if this year is a harbinger of what is to come, it’s possible most professional fishermen in the Inlet may disappear.











39 replies »

  1. Steve: Developing salmon management plans is the purview of the Alaska Board of Fisheries – these plans allocate time, area, methods and means to ensure conservation of fisheries resources and to allocate the harvestable surplus amongst user groups.

    By definition, setting the parameters for time, area, methods and means is allocative by definition allocative. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is supposed to implement these policies, not create them anew.

    5 AAC 57.120 covers the general provisions for seasons, bag, possession, annual, and size limits, and methods and means for Kenia River Drainage Area for sport fisheries. Section (4) salmon, other than king salmon, (A) 16 inches or greater in length, as follows: (i) sockeye, pink, and chum salmon may be taken January 1 – December 31.

    ADFG closed the in-river sport fishery because at the time the lower escapement goal was not projected to be met. Now it is, so both the in-river sport fishery and the Federal Subsistence fishery for sockeye salmon have been reopened. The reopening of these two fisheries follows their respective state and federal management plans, just like closing them when the escapement goal was not projected to be met.

    Notice that the Kenai River personal use fishery was not reopened, even though it closed two days early on instead of July 31. Because the management plan states that fishery closes on July 31.

    5 AAC 21.353 is the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Management Plan.

    Section as states: (a) The purpose of this management plan is to ensure adequate escapement of salmon into the Northern District drainages and to provide management guidelines to the department. The department SHALL manage the commercial drift fishery to MINIMIZE the harvest of Northern District and Kenai River COHO salmon in order to provide SPORT AND GUIDED SPORT FISHERMEN a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon stocks over the entire run, as measured by the frequency of inriver restrictions. The department SHALL manage the Central District commercial drift gillnet fishery AS DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION.

    section (f) From August 16 until closed by emergency order, Drift Gillnet Area 3 and 4 are open for fishing on regular periods.

    Pretty cut and dried descriptions about how the department SHALL manage the drifters and the inriver sport anglers in their respective management plans that spell out the time, area, methods and means for each fishery.

    The sport fish division followed the management plan by reopening the Kenai River sockeye salmon fishery when the lower escapement goal had been achieved, while the commercial fish did not follow the management plan when allowing drifters to fish in Area 1 during a regular period after August 15.

    You can find any of the management plans online with a simple search.

    • Mavo,

      It’s good to see the word shall finally!

      “The department SHALL manage the commercial drift fishery to MINIMIZE the harvest of Northern District and Kenai River COHO salmon in order to provide SPORT AND GUIDED SPORT FISHERMEN a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon stocks over the entire run, as measured by the frequency of inriver restrictions. The department SHALL manage the Central District commercial drift gillnet fishery AS DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION.”

      They did exactly what the plan calls for, thanks for the reinforcement.

    • Cotten has been setting precedents that could come back to haunt the commercial sector. There was no conservation reason to RE OPEN the fishery. It was purely allocative and contrary to regulation. It was a slap in the face of the anglers in the Northern District and on the Kenai River. 700 to 1000 Silvers doesn’t sound like many but it’s around 300 angler limits on the river or a couple hundred in the Valley. And it is not the first time Cotten has abused EO authority to favor commercial users.

      • So far everyone here who has said it is against the plan or against regulations has shown that the plan and the regulations support the actions of adfg. You can’t read only the parts of the plan or the regulations that you want to read, you have to read the entire thing.

        Just saying repeatedly and against the painfully obvious that they allocated fish away does not make it so.

      • Steve: Do you have some problem understanding the word “minimize,” as in “the department SHALL manage the commercial drift fishery to MINIMIZE the harvest of Northern District and Kenai River coho salmon?”

        Historically in the UCI drift fishery, minimize has been defined as 1 percent or 5 percent. The 1 percent rule said that if the catch of coho exceeded 1 percent of the entire commercial catch, the drift fishery would be closed. A proposal for a late season “pink salmon fishery” (i don’t think it was ever fished) up to Aug. 15 set the higher minimum standard of 5 percent.

        In this case, the Department went past the Aug. 15 date and opened a fishery that caught 82 percent coho. If we assume a best-case scenario for the managers, and give them the 5,000 sockeye catch they for which they hoped (the actual catch was 209), they’re still at a coho catch 16 percent, which remains far beyond any limits any BOF has set to define “negative.”

        The only conclusion here is that the Department made up its own plan to reallocate coho earmarked for the sport fishery to the coho fishery. The Department has avoided this in the past because allocation is done by the BOF. BOF responsibility for allocation is the reason the Department has repeatedly used to refuse pleas to extend the dipnet fishery past July 31 in years when they sockeye have shown up late.

        The Department did the opposite this year.

      • Craig,
        I understand what the word minimize means, do you understand that the plan and the regulations are more than one word?

        If we just want to cherry pick words, I choose these “a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon stocks over the entire run, as measured by the frequency of inriver restrictions.” There has been a reasonable opportunity. In fact they liberalized the regulations in some places.

        You have to take the whole of the wording. Putting words you like in all caps and ignoring other words does not change what the entire wording says.

  2. Steve: You haven’t been around long enough. There is a plan. It goes back decades. It says this:

    2. Prior to July 1 salmon stocks managed primarily for recreational purposes;
    -Stocks include early Kenai kings, early Russian River sockeye & Northern District kings- (Changed from Susitna River Kings in
    3. July 1 to August 15 salmon stocks managed primarily for commercial purposes;
    4. After August 15 Kenai Peninsula stocks managed primarily for recreational purposes;

    An Aug. 23 opening that harvestsmore than 5 times as many coho as sockeye violates the plan. Pure and simple. It reallocates coho – the prime August sport fish – away from the sport fishery to the commercial fishery.

    And going outside the plan to do that sets a bad precedent for everyone. What if the next commissioner looks at a nice, big UCI OTFin the middle of July, calculates it could plug the Kenai with sockeye for weekend dipnetters, and on the basis of that decides he’s going to close a regular commercial period for no other reason than he’d like to see dipnetters get their fish?

    I’m sure that any ‘crats worth their paychecks can make up some reason to go outside the BOF-established plan to allow the commissioner to use his EO authority to do that, and we’ve just established the precedent for it being OK for the commissioner to go outside the plan.

    Your basic problem here is that you have your observations on politics and bureaucracy clouding the conversation backwards.

    There is a huge amount of political give and taken in the BOF process that writes these plans. It’s not, or shouldn’t be, in the bureaucrac’s purview to decide it’s going to rewrite the plans in-season unless, of course, you think Alaska should be governed by bureaucrats instead of elected representatives and/or their appointees to courts, boards and commissions.

    The salmon catch in this – 23 boats/136 sockeye/704 coho/30 pinks – is rather meaningless. The precedent is a different matter.

    I sorry I can’t answer your question as to benefits to the sport fishery because I don’t know. I wouldn’t expect a lot of anglers to flock to the Kenai to catch sockeye this late in the season. But the opening will surely benefit some angler who happens to catch a still-bright sockeye and decides he/she wants to take it home for dinner.

    And with over 1M sockeye now in the Kenai, it’s silly NOT to reopen the fishery to allow those bright fish – of which there aren’t that many – to be kept.

    • It was not smart to EO the short opener this week. The Dept’s justification for the opener was allocative and not conservation based. Marston’s “slop” or “guess” of the number of Sockeye was way way off. He said that maybe the fleet would harvest around 4 thousand Sockeye out of his estimate of 45 thousand Sockeye heading for he Kenai River. And what did the fleet catch? Less than 400 Sockeye, while at the same time catching over 1,000 Cohos. Certainly not a significant number to make a difference. But the precedent of issuing an EO that changes the intent of the Board’s management plan and allocate what ever fish are caught to the commercial sector is inexcusable. It was politically motivated and will cost Walker votes. As it should! More important it was just plain dumb which affects the integrity of the Dept and what confidence we should have about its fisheries management abilities.

      • What is very interesting is that I have heard that the Dept was not sure of the number of Sockeye being enumerated by the fishwheel apportionment and moved the fleet to the east to fish this week for the purpose of getting data to support the high Sockeye counts. Now they should know that their numbers are very suspect. They got very few sockeye and about 300 sport fish limits in the drift nets. That data should suggest they are counting other salmon as Sockeyes in the apportionment. And from what I have seen and heard there are very few sockeye showing up above the counter.

    • The operative word in the plan is “primarily”.

      The words SHALL, MUST, and/or ONLY are not in the plan. The word primarily means a lot for all of the users, to discount that is to discount the entire plan.

  3. 15% of the tickets written on the beach in July were for dipnetting without a permit. Adfg really has no idea what the dipnetters harvest every year. They are just guessing, and that is no way to manage a fishery

    • 15 percent of how many tickets? what is the sample size?

      hard to draw any conclusions from what you’ve go there. let alone conclude “ADF&G really has no idea.” at most, one might be able to jump to the conclusion that the harvest was 15 percent under reported.

      whether that’s a lot depends on how you look at it.

      what’s the margin of error in the sonar?

      • Per Adn, from opening day to july28 70 tickets were issued in the Kenai dipnet fishery. 10 were for no permit, 2 for no fishing license. That puts it over 15 % if we assume those without licenses also did not have a permit.
        If 15% of the boats gillnetting or 15% of the sites setnetting were doing so without permits, would we describe that as an orderly fishery?
        If we go with adfg’s guesstimate of 300k fish, then the dipnet fleet took close to the same number of fish as the drift fleet.
        How can Adfg manage the run without accurate daily counts coming from this fishery?

      • Omar,

        That 15% you say is also only 15% of those ticketed, how many were checked, how many escaped detection? How many saw the law and left before they were caught? How many were from out of state, possibly the majority of those 15% that were caught, and an unknown number of those who walked away before being caught.


        I’ve watched the dipnet madhouse, it’s chaos and a mass of swarming humanity. The state issues advisories to bathe after simply touching the water. They also say to cook your food beyond what is needed all due to the levels of fecal chloroform present…human shit, dog shit, and bird shit is everywhere. How anyone could take food from there and actually eat it is beyond me, unless they like shit flavored salmon.

      • well, if you’ve watched the fishery, you would know it’s pretty easy to estimate when it is catching a significant number of salmon and when it’s not. the fishery is small and localized.

        it’s not scattered all over Cook Inlet and armed with equipment that allows for big catches in short time periods if the fish are there.

        yes, better reporting for the dipnet fishery would be nice. but this year, in particular, it’s kind of irrelevant. on most days, the dipnet fishery caught diddly. madhouse times diddly is still diddly.

        and exactly when did you see dogs and humans shitting on the beach? i know i’ve never seen a dipnetter shitting on the beach, and i can’t recall ever seeing a dog on the beach shitting or otherwise, but i do recall hearing a dog this year. it wouldn’t stop barking, but it was somewhere well back from the beach.

      • I haven’t walked around looking for shitters, either human or dog, but they are there shitting away along with the birds. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it, the state tests the water and issues warnings about bathing after touching the water and cleaning your fish and cooking them beyond well done. It’s in the news pretty much every year during dipshitting…errr dipnetting season, it’s one of the main reasons I don’t dipnet, not into eating shitty fish.

      • Craig “Pretty easy to estimate” dipnet catches is far from the accurate enumeration necessary to manage a fishery. Whether large or small, Adfg can only guess how many fish are taken by this user group. Commercial users provide accurate and daily reports of the number, size, and species of the fish they catch.
        From catches I have seen reported on social media and online forums, the dipnet boats working the mouth of the Kenai often take more fish (hundreds per boat) than the commercial boats fishing many miles from the river.
        When you are fishing in the channel of the river the fish are returning to you don’t need a lot of net to be very effective.

      • Omar: From what I’ve seen reported on social media and online forums, a large portion of the commercial catch goes unreported.

        I don’t believe it because I don’t give a lot of weight to social media and online forums. I suggest you go watch those boats in-river. There are days when they do well. There are days when they do poorly.

        You can actually take the data available – commercial catch rates and the sonar number – and define the days they did well. There were not many of those days this year. The dipnet fishery, whether by boat or from shore, is density dependent.

        When there are fewer than 25,000 fish trickling into the river, dipnet catches are low. There were less than 25,000 fish trickling into the river 80 percent of the time the fishery was open in 2018.

        I have no doubt dipnetters who were there on the 20th – the day before the sonar clicked off 62,623 – did well. The day after?

        People didn’t appear to be catching diddly. You can watch the dipnet fisheries on all those video cams now. I’d guess if the city of Kenai saved the video you could probably estimate the catch pretty accurately.

        I went down on the 23rd to see if the fishery had picked up. It hadn’t. There were people catching fish, but it was by no means great from shore or from boat.

        We didn’t “lose” a million sockeye in the dipnet fishery.

        Yes, it would be nice if there was better, real-time reporting of dipnet catches, and if there was better enforcement, but the issue is largely a strawman.

        Still, if you think the dipnet fishery is that efficient, it’s certainly worth considering creating a commercial dipnet fishery in the river. Such a fishery would is prosecuted near the processors, which save a lot of fuel for the fishermen, and the bycatch problem for Chinook would largely go away.

        The commercial fishery could operate in the PU fishery boat zone in the hours when the PU fishery is closed, or it could be moved into the unfished zone that now exists between the PU beach fishery and the PU boat fishery.

        Given the decrease in efficiency from gillnets, a dipnet fishery could surely fish regular 8-hour periods every day. That would require moving the opening of the PU boat fishery back to 7 a.m. or the closing back to 10 p.m., but that wouldn’t seem unreasonable.

        A steady, daily stream of fish would make things better for processors, and we would get a much cleaner commercial fishery out of the deal.

  4. . It began with Cotten’s decision last year to allocate Copper River sockeye salmon away from the Nelchina Basin sport fishery in favor of the Copper River commercial fishery – a decision which should have been reserved by the Board.
    what are you talking about?

    • The sonar is counting salmon, David. The fish counts are then apportioned based on a stock-composition estimate from a fish wheel. The system has some margin of error. The sonar itself has some margin of error.

      How big that margin? ADF&G thinks it’s pretty small. I don’t know, but I’m willing to believe 10 percent one way or the other. There have been about 200,000 pinks deducted from the count to date. There have been days when the pink count turned out to be four-times the sockeye count and vice versa.

      It’s hard to make a case that the count is any less accurate than in any other year.

  5. It really is amazing how shortsighted and adverse to factual data we as humans can be.

    We have had so many years in a row of abnormally high, indeed record setting high salmon returns and so we think that’s how it should always be. Some of us think that’s the way it’s always been, even in the face of factual data.

    Looking at the graph of the run timing midpoint shows one thing, in most years it’s not like the other years around it. One year will be off by 10-12 days from the year before, the next year it’s off by one day, then 4-5 days, then the same day. It literally is all over the chart. The trend does show one important bit of information, on average the run is arriving later overall.

  6. Only a few weeks ago the dipnetters and sports fisherman were screaming mad (with Medred spurring them on). “It’s the commercial guys! It’s the Blob! It’s too many pinks!” But time tells the story. It’s the fish. And they were late, like fish can chose to do.

    So, any acknowledgement by dippers and hookers that they were idiots for letting fake news and self-serving entitlement attitudes tie their panties in a knot and get them into hissy fit mode!? And then stomp away in a tantrum before the fish showed? Of course not. With dippers and sporties it’s more fun to cry and scream, than think.

    • hold on there, Jim Bob. firstly, the Kenai dipnet season was closed early and never reopened. so the dipnetters there were SOL.

      and the Copper River, though the the season eventually resumed and got better, was never great until about the middle of August, which was wholly unexpected, and then it got blown out, yet again, by high water.

      but most importantly, there was lot more to the sockeye runs this year than just being “late.” the run was indeed late, and thankfully so, because in the case of both the Copper and the Kenai, about half the fish were missing.

      if the sockeye hadn’t been late, and no one ever knows the answer to that question until the season is over, and if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hadn’t shut commercial fisheries down early, we could have seen disasters on both rivers. they were lucky to meet goals, and we should all be happy for that.

      as for who is or isn’t “screaming mad,” there’s plenty of “screaming mad” to go around. i’d suggest you go review the video of the Bill Walker/Sam Cotten appearance before commercial fishermen in Kenai.

  7. Craig,
    Not really sure what you are trying to do here or who is paying you to write this B.S. articles (Dunleavy Super Pac), but here is the Chitna Dipnetters last post on their website.

    “Fishing Report: Thu, Aug 23rd at 2:36pm
    STOP!!! The river is continuing to come up, fishing is extremely poor. Tomorrow, Friday will be our last day. We have no choice but to close. Trust me when I say this bums me out more than you. We are sorry for any inconvenience. These two pictures contrast what the water has done in the past 18 hours. Notice the rock and the stake behind it.
    Things will be changing next year so watch Facebook for information on a new charter website, with the opportunity to make reservations.”

    • Steve – it’s not a fishing report. it’s a story about salmon returns. the rising water of the moment – an issue that regularly screws up dipnetting on the Copper – doesn’t change the fact there appears to have been an unusually late surge of sockeye into the river.

      and i have no idea what the hell the reference to Dunleavy is. the company bought an add. i’ll be happy to sell you one if you want or anyone reading this.

      we live in a capitalist word. i’m trying to keep the website alive. at the moment it is just barely covering costs, and i’m essentially working for free. that can’t last because a.) i’m not independently wealthy; and b.) given a.) if this doesn’t starting getting more productive soon i’m going to need to go looking for another job.

      • Craig,
        We all are always looking for a job or a better job…I guess that is where Capitalism is failing our educated society. (No time for rest, family and recreation…bills to pay)
        I appreciate your work (either paid or unpaid), but I feel your comment from Hemm’s one good day of dipping is very misleading.
        It can even cause folks to drive over and waste their limited resources (like room on their credit cards).
        I also feel your critique of the NYT article was misleading…fishing has been a “disaster” for most friends of my…both commercial and personal use “netters”.
        Sorry about the Dunleavy ad comment, I will drop it….I just see that the GOP and Cronie Capitalism in AK have destroyed so much of the sustainable life that was once here for all residents.
        I just switched my political party after voting 20 plus years as a Republican.
        We need solutions, not lip service and our current war economy is leaving many dissatisfied residents all over this nation.
        P.S. If you know of any good jobs that are soon to be available in S.C., please pass it along to your readers.
        That would be a good story to read😉

      • Steve: Hem’s “one good day” of dipping was a lot more than one good day. anyone who was really paying attention to the Copper River (as in anyone who really needed fish for the freezer) would have known a couple weeks ago that the fishing had suddenly improved and radically so.

        meanwhile, i put links in stories for a reason. they provide background and more information. i would hope no one would ever drive to the Copper without trying to gather some intel on the situation in the moment, because the situation regularly changes day to day.

        i don’t want to belittle your fishing friends, but if they are dipnetters and didn’t get their fish, they just didn’t work at it all that hard or they were unwilling to supplement reds with pinks. there were fish to be had. you just had to work at. i certainly put enough for the winter in our freezer and though it was significantly more work than in past years, there were fish.

        as for the NYT, the story was, frankly, a fraud. there is no trend of decline in Alaska. this was a one year slump. the Alaska salmon harvests of 2013, 2015 and 2017 were the largest harvests on record in the more than 100-year history of Alaska fisheries.

        the 100M+ harvest of 2016, considered by some a “failure,” topped the historic harvest of the top years pre-Statehood. this year’s harvest is at 100M+, too, and going up. the numbers don’t lie.

        you can go all Donald Trump and believe that what you want to believe is fact (as the NYT did) or you can go with the evidence which defines what is actually fact. the fact is, Alaska had an off year salmon wise, but it is still producing at a very high level.

        we ended up with more than 950,000 sockeye in the Kenai River. if the state were still managing the Kenai River for the escapement goal of the 1970s – 150,000 sockeye – the commercial fishery would have had an OK year in the Inlet in a historical context: 700,000 + 800,000 = 1.5M

        the average historical harvest from 1954 to 1980 was 1.4M per year.

        that, of course, had a lot to do with all those years of managing the Kenai for an escapement of 150,000. that’s the history. for the NYT to suggest the Alaska of today is somehow in the dark times of salmon is simply bullshit.

        no other word for it: bullshit.

        OK, two words for it: “fake news.”

      • Also Craig….
        When you speak of “the capitalist world we live in”…I wonder how true that is? If most people work for the government as either a (teacher, cop, fire fighter, politician, social worker, highway worker, military solider or pilot, state scientists and biologists, civil servants, etc) and then these people in turn run for our offices as elected officials to support their own pensions….how much is this system of Economy still “Capitalism” or that thing we once called the “free market”??

  8. Marston, the biologist working for the commercial division of ADF&G, “estimated” that there were 45,000 “or so” Sockeye still in the inlet heading for the river. And that only around 5,000 would be harvested by the Commercial fleet. Where in the world did he come up with these numbers? The Dept’s “guesses” have been all over the place this season. As is said ever so often, the optics for this are not good. I am pretty sure that Walker and Commissioner Cotten have their fingerprints on this decision. Election year and all! Something needs to change.

    • The number comes from the “nine-day late” run timing. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has all the historic Kenai sonar numbers in the computer. If you go back and find the year that most looks like this one, there are counts that run from today to the day the sonar is turned off.

      Mr. Marston is projecting this year based on those historic numbers. There is a lot of projecting that goes on in fisheries management and a whole lot of slop in the numbers. None of it is anywhere near as precise as ADF&G has tried to make it sound over the years.

      Though they like to pitch the idea that the management is “all about science,” because no one can argue against science, management is also partly “about art,” and Lord knows people can have big arguments about art.

      • It would be hard to find a year that looks like this one. This season is somewhat unique. And saying that there is a whole lot of “slop” in the numbers is a polite way of calling Marston’s numbers a guess. Normally there are other indications used in determining the numbers. Test boats, harvest numbers that tend to show abundance, creel samples, air surveys that tend to do the same, and of course historical data that can be used to predict. In this case there is not very much relevant historical data, and none of the other means to make a meaningful “guess”. By regulation the commercial fisheries are supposed to close by now. But the Dept chose to open the season. I cannot remember the Sockeye season being opened so late in August. This would have been a good time to insure escapements with a safety margin with little consequence to users. Allowing a commercial opening is just pandering to one user group whose votes and campaign contributions are needed by the incumbent. It will not go unnoticed!

  9. By constitutional and statutory mandate the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is charged with speaking to the sustainability of populations of fish and wildlife and implementing the codified management strategies adopted by either the legislature or the legislatively empowered Boards of Fish and Game. There are times in the interest of a conservation objective that one user group ends up favored over another in the course of a fishing season but the ADFG is not empowered to simply pick winners and losers under any circumstance. That’s called allocation and it is the responsibility of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Picking winners and losers is precisely what the ADFG did in this case. By going outside of regulatory plans without significant conservation concerns ADFG puts itself directly in the center of “fish wars” as a participant and that’s a bad place for the state agency to land.

    • All true, Mr. Delaney, but we appear to have seen the rise of the Imperial Commissioner under the leadership of Sam Cotten.

      And the Board of Fisheries, the management authority in charge of allocation, has shown no desire to put an end to that. It began with Cotten’s decision last year to allocate Copper River Chinook salmon away from the Nelchina Basin sport fishery in favor of the Copper River commercial fishery – a decision which should have been reserved by the Board.

      Cotten’s usurpation of emergency order (EO) power has continued since. It is what it is. This is sure to go on until the Board pulls back on the reigns to inform Commissioner Cotten he’s gone beyond the EO power that comes solely at the delegation of the Board.

      You are right that the Commissioner’s behavior is probably not good for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, an agency which is supposed to keep its focus firmly on the science of fisheries management and avoid engaging in the very subjective matter of fisheries allocation, especially in as public a way as this.

      But what do you expect some area fisheries biologist to do after his bosses – Commissioner Cotten and Gov. Bill Walker – show up in his area to meet with commercial fishermen and tell them the state will do its best to get them some more fish? The marching orders there would seem pretty clear.

      Yes, some incredibly brave (or stupid) area biologist could stand up in the face of this and argue the fine points of state law with his bosses, but there’s no upside to that. Given that the commissioner has the final say, it’s a losing battle over principle.

      Only the foolish or the brave would battle over principle in this circumstance. And one thing a lifetime in journalism has taught me is that the brave are rare, very rare.

    • The exact same could be said if they DIDN’T open it for commercial interests since they DID open it for sporting interests.

      By opening it for all users they actually avoid making any allocation decision based on user group. You should be happy they aren’t making allocation decisions based only on user groups, even though you apparently think they should be sometimes and shouldn’t be other times…based on which user group you find acceptable.

      • actually, Steve, that’s wrong. horribly wrong.

        the Board of Fisheries made a decision that after Aug. 15 the Inlet would be managed to benefit sport fisheries.

        whether that decision was a good one or a bad one can be debated, but what the Department of Fish and Game did can’t be debated. the Department not only made an allocation decision, it made a decision that over-rode a BOF decision in order to reallocate fish to the commercial fishery.

        nothing wrong with that if you believe bureaucrats should be able to operate independently of the the rules established by policy makers. horribly wrong if you believe the ‘crats, like the rest of us, should follow the rules set down in law.

      • Craig,

        Would you say reopening the Kenai for sport fishing on reds would benefit sport fisheries?

        Maybe there is a mandate somewhere that says after the 15th the Inlet SHALL or MUST be managed ONLY to the benefit of sports fishing, but I seriously doubt any politically appointed board would pigeonhole themselves that way. Allowing for a small commercial take does not preclude managing for sports fishing interests, bureaucrats and politically appointed boards be damned.

        I standby my statement that by reopening the fishery to one user group is in fact an allocation to that one user group, while opening it to all is not an allocation to any individual user group.

        As an actual sports fisherman (not a commercial guide) and former commercial fisherman I find it strange that I am defending the reopening of a fishery that I’m guessing less than a handful of commercial and sport fishermen are taking part in and that will impact almost no commercial or sports fishermen. But when political appointments and bureaucracy cloud the conversation this starts to make sense.

        There was no reallocation nor was there an overriding of the BOF.

        Even if Kevin can’t speak for himself.

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