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A pair of sockeye (red) salmon that escaped commercial fishermen to spawn, die and go to waste/Oceana photo

Commercial fishermen in Alaska’s Cook Inlet are accusing the state of a decades-long conspiracy to drive them out of business by allowing too many salmon to enter the Kenai River.

Their argument – presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) as part of an ongoing demand for federal usurpation of state management of Inlet salmon – goes like this:

The large number of sockeye salmon the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) now allows to escape commercial nets and enter the Kenai River overstuffs the system; competition between young fish subsequently reduces survival; and as a result, the return per spawner in future years declines.  This lower return per spawner in turn lowers the river’s productive “yield,” the number of fish available to be caught in the commercial fishery.

“It would appear that ADF&G is deliberately trying to reduce yield in the commercial fishery,” the 30-page document prepared by the United Cook Inlet Drifters Association (UCIDA) says.

“They are using incorrect escapement goals and prescriptive management plans that limit in-season adaptive management and the result is diminished returns and continued lost yield,” the graph- and chart-filled presentation says. “In other words, the state is managing the Cook Inlet salmon fishery with the objective of putting the commercial fishing industry out of business.”

UCIDA is the most powerful fishing lobby in the Cook Inlet region. It was formed, its web page says, “in 1980 to represent the 570 drift gillnet salmon fishing permit holders in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. UCIDA’s purpose is to enhance and perpetuate the interests of this valuable commercial salmon fishing industry.”

For decades before and after its incorporation, commercial fishermen largely dictated Inlet management policy to the regulation-setting Alaska Board of Fisheries. When the Board wrote an Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Management Plan in 1978, it made commercial harvest a management priority from June 25 to Aug. 15.

The dates coincide with the return of the bulk of high-value sockeye salmon. All five species of Pacific salmon return to the Inlet that laps at the doorstep of the state’s largest city, but the money is in those silver-bright, ocean sockeye that turn a bright red once they settle onto their freshwater spawning grounds.

Sockeye accounted for 85 percent of the value of the $23 million Inlet salmon harvest last year, according to Fish and Game data. More pink salmon than sockeye were harvested, but the pink catch weighed only about 60 percent of the sockeye catch and brought a meager 34 cents per pound at the dock compared to $1.85 a pound for sockeye.

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Successful state management

Under the watchful eye of ADF&G managers in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Kenai sockeye escapements were steadily eased upward and returns increased steadily. As they did, harvests grew from 2.3 million in 1978 to three years of more than 8.3 million in the 1980s.

Along the way, Kenai sockeye became the tail shaking the management dog in the Inlet. Indiscriminate gillnets set to haul in plentiful Kenai sockeye also caught far less plentiful Chinook (king) and coho (silver) salmon bound not only for the Kenai but for streams all around the Inlet.

Additional management plans had to be written to try prevent the gillnetting of plentiful sockeye from leading to the overharvest of Susitna River coho, Kenai coho and world-famous Kenai king salmon. The 97-pound, 4-ounce world-record king was pulled from the Kenai in 1985.

Most of the fishery plans drafted to protect fish like it and others took a bite out of the commercial harvest, but commercial fishermen, in general, did well for decades.

Commercial harvests that averaged 1.2 million sockeye per year in the 1960s and 1970s grew to 4.4 million per year in the 1980s, shrunk back a little to 3.8 million in the 1990s, and then began a slide that saw the catch drop to 3 million in the 2000s.

It has averaged about 2.5 million this decade, a significant decline from the heady days of the 1980s but more than double the catches of the ’60s and ’70s.

Why the catch has declined is unclear despite the UCIDA claim the problem is too many fish in-river. Sockeye catches in Bristol Bay on the far western coast of Alaska have been setting records in the 2010s, but most sockeye stocks to the east of there – including those of Cook Inlet – have been trending downward.

Some have blamed competition for food with smaller, faster-growing pink salmon in the Gulf of Alaska. Most fisheries biologists agree with scientists Greg Ruggerone from Seattle and James Irvine from British Columbia, Canada who authored a study concluding there are now more salmon in the Pacific Ocean than at any time in recorded history.

Alaska statewide harvests have generally served to underline that conclusion. Average decadal catches have increased for every decade since the 1970s, but the numbers have been driven by those big sockeye returns to Bristol Bay on the Bering Sea and huge harvests of pinks around the Gulf.

Though UCIDA believes the problems with reduced returns to the Kenai center on what is happening in the river, Canadian scientists point to issues at sea.

A study now in peer review claims to have “found that marine survival collapsed over the past half-century by a factor of at least four-to-five fold to similarly low levels for most regions of the West Coast. The size of the decline is too large to be compensated by freshwater habitat remediation or cessation of harvest, and too large-scale to be attributable to specific anthropogenic (human) impacts such as dams in the Columbia River or salmon farming in British Columbia.”

Written by a team from Kintama Research Service in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, the study makes the argument that what happens in the ocean – where salmon spend most of their lives – is more important than what happens in freshwater where they spawn, die and leave young that stay for a relatively short time.

Most Kenai sockeye spend a year in freshwater and then two to three years at sea although there are a few that stay in-river for two years before going to sea for three. Very little is known about what happens to these fish once they hit the ocean other than that massive numbers die and are never seen again.

Thus the big arguments over “returns per spawner” which have, in the case of the Kenai, varied from 1.23 in 2012 to 12.69 in 1982. UCIDA argues the numbers look best when spawning is limited to 600,000 to 800,000 fish in-river, but even in that case the variability in returns per spawner is huge, ranging from a low of 1.90 to that high of 12.69.

Money, money, money

What is clear from the data is that in years when large numbers of sockeye escape into the river, commercial fishermen lose money. UCIDA considers this waste.

“The in-river (Kenai) sport fishery does not have the capacity to harvest…excess sockeye,” the letter says. “So the result is an immediate loss of 500,000 to a million sockeye that could be harvest by commercial fishermen. We cannot afford to waste these 500,000 or more sockeye that are surplus to spawning needs. Five hundred thousand sockeye, or more equates to a minimum of 3 million pounds of salmon being wasted annually.”

The letter couches its demand for a federal takeover to eliminate waste in the context of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth issued on May 7.

“This order mandates that regional fishery management councils develop a prioritized list of actions to reduce burdens on and to increase production from sustainable fisheries,” the letter says. “The prioritized list must be produced within 180 days, and the changes must be proposed within one year.

“The information contained in our letter describes what is needed to increase production rapidly from the Cook Inlet salmon fishery, meet the requirements of the MSA (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and meet the requirements of the executive order.”

Much of what follows is a detailed treatise on maximum-sustained-yield (MSY) management of fisheries. An old school standard, MSY has come under increasing fire in recent years.

A variety of studies have pointed out that it is unrealistic to try to obtain MSY in complicated mixed-stock fisheries – as in Cook Inlet – because trying to manage for the MSY of one stock too easily results in the overharvest of another stock.

That problem has led to calls for maximum economic yield (MEY) or maximum sustained recruitment (MSR), which seeks to produce the optimum number of small fish. 

MSR puts more fish in the river and, from an ecological standpoint, better feeds the environment. Everything from the bears in the woods to the rainbow trout in the river to the forest itself benefits from more fish in the river although all have historically played second fiddle to the idea of manipulating salmon runs for maximum human profit.

That is why UCIDA thinks the feds need to step in to do now. The organization argues Kenai sockeye, which feed in federal waters and the open ocean and then pass through federal waters on their way back to the river, should be managed to a strict MSY standard as stipulated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act governing federal fisheries.

UCIDA rejects state efforts to protect the weaker stocks in mixed-stock fisheries as schemes “used by the BOF (Board of Fisheries) and ADF&G as justifications for restricting commercial fishing on all stocks.”

The letter concedes that the “idea that complex physical or biological systems can be exactly and reliably described by a few mathematical formulas is absurd,” but still demands that the federal fisheries council set lower and narrower escapement goals for the Kenai based on MSY modeling.

Other fisheries?

The letter to the council makes no mention of Kenai subsistence, sport or personal-use fisheries for sockeye, although there is no question that harvest in those fisheries could be increased to help prevent waste if that is truly a problem.

For decades, the Kenai River sport fishery has been arbitrarily restricted to an angling limit of but three sockeye per day, and anglers have been required to release immediately and unharmed any sockeye salmon hooked anywhere but in the mouth.

Commercial fishermen have backed those sport fish regulations, and regularly decried a lack of state enforcement of regulations against “snagging” sockeye by catching them anywhere but the mouth.

Historically, according to Fish and Game anthropologist Jim Fall, snagging was the way in which most salmon were harvested in-river when the Kenai Peninsula population started to boom after World War II.

“Snagging with a rod and reel was one of the most efficient methods for people unfamiliar with riverine net fishing,” he wrote. “Homesteaders found snagging to be the most economical and efficient legal method, and it worked well in the fast-flowing waters of many rivers and streams where nets would be swept away or caught on snags.”

Snagging only increased after in-river net fishing was banned in favor of limiting nets to the marine waters where commercial fisheries operated. But an odd convergence of angling and commercial fishing interests eventually brought snagging to an end.

Commercial fishermen wanted in-river competitors for salmon to catch fewer of them. And a vocal group of anglers, inspired by purist fly fishermen like Lee Wolff and others who saw catch-and-release fishing as a new conservation tool, judged snagging cruel, unethical and unfair.

“Snagging was restricted to the head in 1969,” Fall wrote. “By 1973, snagging any part of the fish was made illegal. This rule greatly reduced the local meat fishermen’s ability to harvest fish for home use.”

No data is kept on how many Kenai sockeye are “foul-hooked” by anglers every summer now only to be hauled to shore and released, but observations of some of the more popular Kenai holes would indicate that there are at least as many fish caught and released on any given day as there are fish caught and kept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 replies »

  1. Craig you and UCIDA share a common issue. You both know just enough to make comments and allegations but not enough to really inform the public as to the truth. UCIDA’s recent paper is full of mistakes and comments that just does not help their cause. The paper attacks the models used to set escapement goals for the Kenai River sockeye salmon and claims that the empirical data is better indication of production potential. That is not an unreasonable claim. However, I do not believe anyone is trying to put them out of business at the Federal level. Some State representatives feel that way per their public comments.

    Since I started to raise the goals for sockeye in the early 1980’s it was based on the fact the Ricker curve and other models did not fit the data very well. UCIDA is correct on that point but that does not make them useless. When you have models one can use other indicators to set goals – like area of spawning habitat, size of the rearing lakes, and frankly a little lets see what happens approach. That is what my team did in the 80’s and goals were raised. However, since adult data was not working well it led my team to look at the rearing environment of the Kenai River and that led to development of the brood year interaction model in 1999 and more importantly the examination of fry survival. This is where you and UCIDA are missing a key point. The freshwater production of sockeye salmon in the Kenai glacial systems is linked to the amount of fry rearing in the lakes during multiple brood years. Thus each year is not independent of each other and one reason the classic Ricker models are not good fits. Fall fry numbers can vary from 8 or 9 million to over 50 million and the amount of food available dictates survival and fish condition. The probability of getting 50 million fry is higher with large escapements and back to back large escapements can reduce production in the following years. So in point of fact a variable escapement goal based on freshwater rearing conditions is the correct approach. The recent ADFG escapement goal review team did not do a good job of looking at all the data and defining a goal. Instead, UCIDA is correct that politics with the new Commissioner led to higher goals.

    Claiming that production is mostly tied to the marine environment ignores this important freshwater variable. UCIDA and you fail to even discuss the fry data which is the key to the Kenai River sockeye production. Let me point out that when the goal was 150,000 sockeye it was freshwater that limited Kenai sockeye returns. One could not produce enough smolt to get large returns. The point is that you need to look at all aspects of salmon life history and where the system is at the time of examination. If not enough spawners are making it then freshwater is the driving force regardless what the marine environment is doing.

    Some claim that large escapements help bears and trout and motherhood. However there are no data to indicate that in the glacial system of the Kenai that bears, trout, or motherhood has been adversely impacted with the level of escapements in the 80’s or 90’s. In fact bear and trout populations appear to be very healthy. However, if there is an issue for bears it is probably in the small tributaries that have spawning chinook salmon not a lack of sockeye salmon.

    Did sport and commercial fisherman work to end snagging? That may be true at the start but not in recent history. I was at numerous Board of Fish meetings and the main objection to snagging in freshwater came from sport fisherman and ADFG who felt it was not fair chase. However, recreational fisherman have not been denied fish. The personal use fishery takes hundreds of thousands of sockeye above the historical harvest of sport caught sockeye. Remember the sport sockeye fishery is relatively new starting in the late 1980’s and harvest levels were less than 100,000 fish. That harvest has increased three times or more.

    Relative to the motives of UCIDA and the Federal law suit it has not been determined what their motives are relative to in-season management. In briefs before the court they have pushed for a Fishery Management Plan rewrite. Maybe you and others are not aware but there has been a FMP in place since the 1980’s. The issue is that it is to be reviewed and revised and the Federal Government failed to do that for 30 years. UCIDA won at the Supreme Court that an FMP was required. The Federal agencies have refused to include State waters in the management plan and yet the court ruled that the plan must include the fishery. Thus the question is the fishery through out the inlet or not. That is the recent fight. The second part of the fight is that the Federal agencies should have oversight on management plans and setting goals since salmon are federally owned and M/S requires this oversight. I cannot fault UCIDA for asking the Federal agencies to do their job. It is not uncommon for the public to question Federal agencies when they overstep their authority or fail to use their authority. How in-season management would look has not been decided and I know of a number of UCIDA representatives who understand the State should make the in-season calls with oversight – similar to other areas of the country.

    In summary the allocation battles in UCI are keeping good honest discussions of the data from happening and frankly the agencies – both State and Federal have done a poor job of doing the hard work of looking at all the data. Using just adult models is easy and UCIDA using the Markov table is picking the best case for them. However, both miss the underlying cause of production variability for Kenai River sockeye salmon. One has to look at the fry data.

    • Oh, but where to begin. Here we are again in general agreement on much as regards Cook Inlet salmon management, but with you once again attributing to me things I did not say.

      Let’s start there with the accusation that I made some claim “that production is mostly tied to the marine environment” and that this “ignores this important freshwater variable.”

      I made no claim whatsoever. I cited some researchers who believe the importance of the marine environment has been grossly overlooked by managers in general, and I added the observation that salmon spend most of their life in the marine environment.

      The latter observation is a simple fact. It is one of the few things in this discussion that is not debatable.

      It is black and white. We can count the days in freshwater, and we can count the days at sea, and they are what they are, which leads me back to the start of your post.

      You appear to believe I disagree with every assertion in the 30 pages of UCIDA analysis. I don’t. To do so would be to avoid some valid points raised by that analysis and to conclude there is some definitive “truth” as to fisheries management.

      You want someone to “really inform the public as to the truth.” OK, I’ll do that right here. It’s simple:

      The truth is the science of fisheries management is imperfect. The truth is the science of fisheries management is forced to do microsurgery with a machete or maybe a hatchet. Hell, maybe even an ax.

      This isn’t engineering. It’s biology. All the models are influenced by the data put into them and then plagued by the unpredictable and constantly changing influences of a highly complex ecosystem.

      If there was some definable “truth” here, we wouldn’t need fisheries managers. We could just run the numbers:

      “OK, we put 800,000 spawners in the river. That produces 4.8 million adults. We catch 4 million when they come back. 800,000 go upstream spawning. Everybody is good. No need for all this in-season monitoring and those disruptive EOs.”

      But it doesn’t work that way, and we both know it, so let’s stop talking about any truth. To suggest there is such a truth is to abandon scientific principles. The inherent variability in this equation is why you, me and a hundred scientists could debate the Kenai’s optimum escapement goal for hours.

      I’m not going to do that because I’m tired of scientists bastardizing science and thus undermining its credibility in much the way journalists have undermined the credibility of journalism by arguing that there is “truth” to be found in an arena where this no definable truth.

      And because I wholly agree with you on this: “The point is that you need to look at all aspects of salmon life history and where the system is at the time of examination.”

      To that I would only add that we also need to look at where the system is likely to be in the future. If our marine survival is indeed shifting, and we’re destined to get a marine return of two adults to one spawner no matter what we do (instead of the 6-1 suggested in the quote above), the public policy equation shifts.

      Do you want to put 800,000 sockeye upriver in the Kenai and get back 1.6M, or do you want to put 1.2M upriver and get back 2.4 million? Either way, the commercial fishery is going to take a big hit from the days of 6-to-1 returns, but you might be able to maintain a better sport fishery (another sizable money maker for the local economy) with the larger number of fish in-river given the density-dependent nature of that sport fishing.

      Thus the answer to the important question of escapement becomes part biology and part public policy. There are no truths in that arena. There are lot of tradeoffs.

      Lastly, as to your portrayal of snagging, I’m only going to point out that you abbreviated the history to skew the picture. The snag fishery was preceded by subsistence (for lack of a better word) net fisheries in-river as still exist on the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers this day. Those were the “personal use fisheries” of their time on the Kenai.

      Commercial fishermen pushed the elimination of those fisheries before sportfishing had any real influence. To thus suggest that the return of a limited amount of in-river, net fishing with dipnets is some sort of invasive, new, variation on sport fishing that started “in the late 1980’s (when) harvest levels were less than 100,000 fish…(and) has increased three times or more” is to severely distort the history of Kenai harvests.

      The historical facts are that before commercial fishing arrived in Cook Inlet there were people living on the salmon that return Cook Inlet streams. It was their main food security, and they were displaced by commercial interests that usurped the harvest, increased it significantly, and with a fair bit of help from a colder climate managed to overharvest the fish, creating a mess of things that took decades to fix.

      History is something in which there is truth because one can go back, gather the facts, and determine exactly what happened. It’s not like fisheries management, which depends in a significant part on predicting the future.

      There is no “truth” in predicting the future. There are simply good and educated guesses versus foolish, wishful thinking.

      Your suggestion that UCIDA’s motives here are unclear is either your engaging in wishful thinking as to human behavior or an outright attempt at deception. In that lengthy appeal to the NPFMC, UCIDA clearly states its belief that the number of fish escaping into the Kenai today is wasteful, that under state management salmon in Cook Inlet are being under harvested, and that this is all part of a state effort to drive them out of business.

      The information in the document leads to one and only one conclusion: UCIDA wants more of those Cook Inlet salmon in the nets of its members. This is, in fact, the biggest problem I see with the UCIDA letter. The letter actually makes me feel sorry for UCIDA members.

      The letter is horrible public relations.

      The letter makes UCIDA look like a bunch of greedy bastards. Any valid, debatable scientific points they make as to the management of Cook Inlet salmon stocks get buried in the mire of conspiracy theory and the mountain of advocacy (some might say bullshit) for giving UCIDA a green flag to kill more Cook Inlet salmon.

      There is nothing in there to indicate UCIDA gives a damn about the health of the Cook Inlet streams and rivers at ecosystem levels. Color me greenie if you must, but that’s sad.

      • Very substantive debate. I like it when two well informed people step up and engage with each other’s positions.
        What I would like to hear more of is the law and ethics in managing strong stock ( Sockeyes) at the expense of a weak stock (Chinook) should we forsake the Chinook so that more Sockeyes can be harvested? Does UCIDA think about the possibility of the Feds listing Chinook under the ESA. And the consequences of that to them?
        Nothing wrong with greed. We all suffer from that malady, including Sports, PU, commercial, and yes, subsistence users.

      • We should clear up some misinformation. Kenai sockeye have not been harvested at the expense of Kenai chinook. Kenai sockeye goals have been exceeded to meet chinook goals. Remember 2012 when the set net fishery was closed for the season when projections indicated the chinook goal would be short 100 fish. The exploitation rate by the set nets is under 20%. Same can be said for coho and chinook headed to the Susitna. The drift fleet exploitation rate on coho is less than 20%. Chinook exploitation is less than a couple of percent. So the plans in UCI are allocative driven plans for the most part. They are designed to meet MSY goals and allocation desires for chinook. Remember the drift fleet does not catch many chinook.

        Unfortunately this is where misinformation by those in the allocation battle has been ingrained as fact.

        ADFG biologist are well aware of risks to weaker stocks. The facts bear this out as Kenai sockeye escapements are well above the goals in the majority of years

      • We can agree that drift gillnet exploitation of Chinook is low.

        Set gillnet exploitation of Chinook may or may not be under 20 percent. Unaccounted mortality from entanglements and dropouts is simply unaccounted and unstudied. It might be negligible. It might be significant given the relatively small size of the Chinook population.

        Not to mention that the exploitation rate in that fishery could be further reduced by the use of shallower nets, a policy setnetters (with some notable exceptions) have steadfastly opposed.

        Drift fleet exploitation on coho is at best a guess given how poor the data for Susitna coho returns. Then, too, there are biologists who believe some coho systems in the Susitna might have been depressed by past overharvests in the Inlet, which is an ideal way to create a situation that makes it possible to claim low exploitation of a weak stock in a mixed-stock fishery targeted on the strongest stock.

        But don’t panic. I’m not gonna go all UCIDA on former state fishery managers and accuse them of some conspiracy to depress north-end coho runs in order to claim low exploitation rates in the industrial sockeye fishery.

        There’s no evidence to indicate that. Just as there is no evidence to back UCIDA’s claim of a Department conspiracy to eliminate the commercial fishery in the Inlet. That fishery’s biggest problem is and always has been that there are too many fishermen for too few fish.

        From an individual business standpoint, that was the case in the ’60s and ’70s, and though Alaska voters approved Limited Entry to help commercial fishermen, there remain too many fishermen fishing for too few fish in Upper Cook Inlet.

        And, of course, the thank you those Upper Cook Inlet Drifters give average Alaska voters for approving a Constitutional amendment to allow limited entry is a not-so-friendly wave of the middle finger.

      • Craig truth is defined as in accordance with facts and reality. So there are truths in biology including fishery management. However I was speaking to scientific research and certainly truth is based on facts. In that context what data do you have or can reference that netting in the Kenai took large number of sockeye. In the 1950’s and 60’s the total return of sockeye to the Kenai averaged 500,000 and the population was a few thousand. Where is the fishing power to catch thousands of sockeye let alone 100,000 or more which the present PU fishery takes. Also most residents commercial fished with traps or set nets and kept their subsistence fish out of their commercial harvest. There was no deception on my part just the knowledge of what has been harvested.

        I have read and listened to UCIDA testimony and while they want Federal oversight I have never heard or read that they want Federal in season management. I think you are speculating on this point.

        We do have General agreement on a number of points but I really do not like errors of omission in comments or reporting. For example quotes from Canada and West coast studies fail to point out Alaska tends to have just the opposite response – so when they struggle we tend to do better. This could change with global warming.

      • Ken: There is no need to speculate on anything. You’ve perfectly defined a distinction without a difference: “while they want Federal oversight I have never heard or read that they want Federal in-season management.”

        The Board of Fisheries doesn’t do in-season management either. As a practical matter, it simply provides the “oversight” to guide Department action.

        Now, as to those “Canada and West coast studies,” there is no doubt the Alaska response North Pacific Ocean conditions is opposite than of Canada and the PNW. There is also no doubt that their fish and our fish share a lot of the same pasture.

        And one could argue the winners and losers have already changed with warming. Our salmon numbers have gone up, up, up as theirs have slipped steadily down. Granted, aside from Bristol Bay, this has been largely driven by the boom in the numbers of our smallest, lowest value salmon, but we have seen big numbers.

        One could almost wonder if warming is going to make pinks the “pike of the Pacific” in terms of their influences on sockeye, coho and Chinook. It’s too bad retired coho researcher Leon Shaul isn’t on here to weigh in.

      • In-season management can take many forms with the Federal Gov. The Yukon is a good example were federal biologists are actively involved in-season. I have not heard UCIDA push this approach. I think one reason is the battle over what the FMP should include geographically and timing for completion. So when people say they want Federal management they need to be clear on in-season or oversight in the regulatory process. Remember UCI had an outdated FMP which already give the State in-season management but had not been reviewed or updated as required by law. UCIDA has won all the way to the Supreme Court on the requirement for an FMP. We should applauded them for making the Feds do their job. However we should take them to task when they provide misinformation or falsehoods. In the end this could result is more Federal money for UCI research/management is the State plays their hand correctly. I do not have much hope for that but Administration change

    • Ken T. The drift fleet does harvest Chinook. Not as many as the ESSN fleet. How many are reported by both is easy to determine. How many are not reported or drop out is hard to say. but there is a number. Management plans have restricted the sockeye fisheries when Chinook were not expected to reach minimums. So the Dept and the BOF have managed to protect weak stocks on occasion. But there was no guarantee that the restrictions would work when imposed. They were lucky in a sense. And I believe that their actions were consistent with Alaska’s constitution. But is something that the gill net fleets do not want. Truth is that they would forsake chinooks in a heartbeat in order to harvest more of their money fish, Sockeye. Many of both fleets have said or inferred just that. So we must manage for the weak stock.
      While it is true that in almost all cases Chinook minimum escapement goals have been achieved it was because of two reasons: first, because restrictions have been placed on the commercial fleets, and second, because prior Commissioners have steadily decreased the minimum escapement goals so they are achievable. UCIDA and the set netters argue that over escapement reduces their harvest of Sockeye without even a nod to what would become of the Chinook escapements. That speaks loudly to their belief that Chinook should just go away. And it is that possibility that could get the attention of the Feds when they might consider the Chinook to be a threatened population

  2. Concerning the thought that extra competition with additional salmon for the same, or intertwined, food sources may be reducing Upper Cook Inlet salmon return numbers per spawner: I believe that is not just a possibility, but likely occurring. Many folks mention the huge numbers of hatchery pink salmon released in Prince William Sound quite frequently — but often fail to mention hatchery pink salmon released in lower Cook Inlet by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, and also the hatchery pink salmon released around Kodiak Island. Each of these 3 huge additions of hatchery pink salmon to the environment may have a detrimental effect on Upper Cook Inlet wild salmon production. It is interesting that the drift fleet does not even discuss what effect these hatchery pink salmon (their aquaculture association is releasing) may have on Upper Cook Inlet salmon production. Especially given the fact they are arguing that too many young sockeye salmon may be reducing future yields. Are the drifters themselves trading away higher value wild sockeye yields for lower lower value hatchery pink salmon yields?

    • Those are all good questions the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has intentionally sought to avoid answering, Andy. The Exxon Valdez oil spill provided an excellent road map for the way the April-June currents move out of Prince William Sound into Cook Inlet.

      Young salmon ride those currents in a loop around the Gulf of Alaska. It’s clear that between hatcheries and better management of wild pinks, we have significantly upped the number of young fish being pushed into the gut of the Gulf off the end of Cook Inlet.

      Could an increase in food competition among young fish influence mortality? Yes. Could an increase in young fish lead to predator massing that influences mortality? Yes.

      Does it? I don’t know.

      I 100 percent agree with the observation of Bill Templin, the Department’s chief science adviser, that while there might be some apparent biological correlations indicating pinks are putting downward pressure on other species, there is no evidence of causation.

      But, in my personal view, it is shameful that the Department hasn’t launched an effort to determine if there are linkages. That is what science is supposed to do.

  3. Marlin, how do you determine accidentally snagged and intentionally snagged? Therein lies the problem with every Board of Fish proposal that’s been made in regard in keeping an accidentally snagged red salmon. It’s unenforceable and why it never passes.

    If you’re worried about mortality from releasing a snagged red salmon, circle hooks should be mandatory. In seven years of using them, I’ve snagged 2 fish. That’s probably 350 hours of flossing for me. Don’t believe it’s efficacy, try googling “circle hooks for red salmon” and you’ll read about what the cool kids are using on the Kenai.

    • The tone deafness suffered by UCIDA is truly remarkable. Apparently they have no idea how they are perceived. Or they don’t care. Either way, whatever credibility they had is now gone. And how about the mythical “Overescapement” argument? It will be interesting to see if the Feds give this any traction.

    • Personally, I am against snagging, however, I don’t care how it happens, I feel once a fish has been fought to exhaustion it should be considered part of the bag limit.

  4. Difficult to use polite to words to respond to these greedy clowns. Kenai second run reds (along with all the other fish in Cook Inlet) are supposedly a SHARED resource.

    My guess is the increased mortality of Cook Inlet reds in the salt is due to the billion or two ranched pink fry dumped into PWS every year, yet another example of resource management to benefit commfish that is impacting all other user groups this side of the Alaska Peninsula.

    UCIDA wants a federal takeover of the resource management, shutting down ADF&G participation, apparently because they believe they can BS their way to getting priority access to ALL salmon in Cook Inlet. They need to be careful with that, as half of the 16 stocks of concern statewide are in Cook Inlet, most of them kings. Every single one of those can be turned into a threatened and quickly into an endangered species, shutting down Inlet commfish instantly and completely. If you guys are successful in orchestrating a federal takeover in Cook Inlet, I guarantee this response.

    There are greens out there salivating at the possibility, mostly because they think they can use it to shut down oil and natural gas platforms in the Inlet. But if you guys get your federal takeover, I promise to help orchestrate the green response. You boys and girls want scorched earth? Here, hold my beer.

    There is another approach, one CM has been reporting on for years, that includes fish farming both on and offshore. In my perfect world, ADF&G manages 2nd run Kenai reds for half a million personal use and 1.5 – 2 million upriver. They also manage for zero commercial catch of king and coho. Granted that is too few fish for you guys. I would propose first moving an appreciable percentage of your yearly catch over to onshore / offshore fish farming / RAS systems. In-river fish traps are another possible solution. I’ll help with both pieces of legislation. But this would require a bit of creative thought out of UCIDA, something they appear only capable of using to figure out how to screw over the other user groups.

    Shot, over. Shot, out. Splash, over. Splash, out. Cheers –

  5. I read that the majority of snagged, released, salmon that have been fought to exhaustion never make it to the spawning areas. If as many are released as are kept, this is very diconcerting. Perhaps, in an effort to save as many salmon as possible and have a faster turnover of fishing spots, snagging should be made legal and any fish caught, regardless of size, must be retained by the fisherman. An alternative: if a salmon is accidently snagged, it must be kept as part of one’s bag limit.

  6. Commercial fishermen are half a notch above politicians who are half a notch above prostitutes. Alaska has way too many of all 3.

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