News

The chicken farmer

 

An OK Foods chick/OK Foods

 

News analysis

One cannot help but feel sorry for commercial fisherman and former chicken farmer Russell Clark, one of the 735 people who hold permits to set net for salmon along the shores of Alaska’s Upper Cook Inlet.

As the old saying goes, “when it rains, it pours,” and the world has poured all over Clark as of late.

First came the failure of his Oklahoma chicken farm, then the 2019 Oklahoma bankruptcy, followed by, in order, a lousy 2019 Inlet fishing season, the pandemic which pushed down fish prices in 2020, and this year the early closure of commercial set netting in the Inlet to protect a struggling run of Kenai River king salmon.

The closure sadly didn’t work.

Fewer than 12,000 of the big Chinook, as kings are usually called elsewhere, made it into the river, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

This was but 80 percent of the minimum goal and marked the third year in a row that too few kings made it back to meet the biologically determined escapement of 15,000 to 30,000 of the fish.

Historically, this is how wild salmon runs fade to remnants of their richness. Overfished, they trickle steadily downward.

Unfortunately, because set gillnets are indiscriminate in what they catch, the set-net closure in the Inlet to protect Chinook forced commercial setnetters to watch somewhere between $5 million and $10 million worth of surplus sockeye salmon swim past their fishing sites.

By the end of the season, more than 2.4 million of those fish had made it into the river, according to Fish and Game, almost twice the upper goal of 1.3 million. 

The sockeye are the target of the commercial fishery. The Chinook are what is called bycatch in the commercial fishing business.

Setnetters have had decades to work out fishing schemes for how to catch sockeye without catching Chinook, and they have refused to do so.

Why worry

In earlier years, when the kings came back in large numbers, setnetters denied the fish were bycatch and claimed they were entitled to catch their “fair share” to sell even though a king caught in a set net by a man from Oklahoma like Clark contributes a fraction of the money to the state economy as does a king pursued by an angler from Oklahoma who comes north to fish the Kenai.

To some degree, kings in the Kenai are bait for the state’s biggest moneyfish – tourists.

Tourists make large contributions to the Alaska economy even if they don’t catch a thing because they are willing to spend thousands of dollars just to try to catch a fish.

This has always been a hard idea for setnetters to swallow, and the closure of the commercial fishery this year in order to manage the Chinook resource for robust biological productivity has them all angry.

No one knows how many kings they would have killed if they’d been allowed to keep fishing, but it’s doubtful it would have been a big number.

State harvest records show a catch of 1,247 Chinook in set nets prior to the closure of that fishery. As of the same date, 3,717 kings had made it into the river.

These numbers would indicate the nets were ensnaring – at most – about 25 percent of the returning fish. That’s a maximum number and unrealistic one to use in assessing the catch.

Some of the set-net caught kings were bound for the Kasilof, Susitna or other Cook Inlet spawning streams. Some of the set-net caught fish were undersize kings unlikely to add much to the spawning cohort.

The setnetters like to make a big deal of how many of these fish were smaller than the kings of 34 inches or larger counted by the state sonar on the Kenai. But that debate is a waste of time given that there are Chinook smaller than 34 inches that put eggs in the gravel to produce more Chinook in future years.

Still, it is reasonable to assume the set nets would have caught less than 20 percent of the Chinook that came back after the closure and probably far less. For the sake of argument, let’s say 15 percent.

Slightly more than 8,100 big kings were counted entering the river after the set-net closure.   Fifteen percent of that works out to a little over 1,200 fish.

So the setnetters gave up about 1.1 million sockeyes to put 1,200 Chinook in the river. That Chinook number is admittedly small. It represents but 8 percent of the minimum spawning goal for big kings.

The actual percentage might have been even smaller. Clark, and setnetters like him, have plenty of reason to be angry. Few business people would not be angry at giving up potentially millions in profit to save 1,200 or fewer salmon.

And business people are what the setnetters are no matter what claims they might make to a “traditional lifestyle” or a rich family history of fishing the beaches.

The myth

Yes, there are some who can legitimately make a claim to a long family history on the beach. Most can’t.

The records of the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (CFEC) show a huge turnover in permits since the state gave them to 746 people who could show a documented history in the fishery prior to 1975.

These so-called “limited entry” permits became the property of the historic fishermen. They were allowed to do with them as they wished going forward, and thus the permits became a marketable commodity now regularly bought and sold in the marketplace.

As of 2018, CFEC records show 1,278 “gifts” of permits from one commercial fisherman to another, 1,254 sales, 21 trades and 106 “other.”

About 36 percent of these transfers were among family members, according to the CFEC, the rest of the permits were sold, traded or gifted to friends, business partners or strangers like Clark.

The CFEC records reflect he bought his first permit in 2005, back when he was a successful chicken farmer in Heavener, Okla. He has been coming north to profit off Inlet salmon ever since.

From a business standpoint, he made a decent investment. Salmon prices were depressed in the early 2000s, and the CFEC records report an average going price of $10,000 for a permit in 2005.

Permit prices have never climbed back to anywhere near the almost $100,000 value of 1990 when the state of Alaska banned net-pen salmon farming, and some commercial fishermen jumped to the conclusion the state had locked up the salmon business.

All it really did was shoot itself in the foot, but that’s another story. The Alaska ban temporarily drove the value of salmon sky high, which gave Norwegian fish farmers plenty of incentive to dive into the farming business.

They did so with a vengeance, and the value of salmon soon after plummeted. But the availability of the product also increased its popularity, which eventually pushed up demand, and as demand increased, the prices for all salmon – farmed or wild – crept upward.

So, by 2018, according to the CFEC, a Cook Inlet permit was worth an average of $18,000. As to its value in the future, who knows.

This year can’t be good for permit sales, but those on the market now are being offered at $17,500 to $19,500 with an open offer from one buyer to pay $16,000. 

So it would appear Clark could recover the cost of his permit and get out of the set-net business with a small profit, but he doesn’t want to because there is an amazing sense of entitlement that comes with owning an Alaska commercial fishing permit, and at 61 years of age his fall back options don’t look good.

Clark a few days ago vented on his fishing problems in the comments section on this website. He was complaining about a story explaining the difficult problem of managing mixed-stock fisheries such as the Kenai where it is easy to overharvest the weak stock (in this case Chinook) to satisfy demands to maximize the commercial harvest of the strong stock (in this case sockeye).

Everyone else’s problem

In his comments, he tried to point the finger of blame for falling Chinook stocks at the in-river Kenai sport fishery that targets kings. He either did not understand or did not care that such fisheries are easily turned on or off depending on the number of fish returning.

They were turned off – ie. shut down – this July when it became clear the run of kings was weak. And they have long been set up to close on July 31, weeks before the king run ends, as an added management precaution.

This year more than half the kings that made it into the river to spawn arrived after that date thanks to the long-established sport closure and the state’s decision to shut down the eastside set net fishery as well.

This didn’t stop Clark from pointing fingers.

“It’s articles like this that are part of the problem,” he charged. “When talking heads only report part of the information and part of the information they do report is false then that reporter should not be trusted….Believe it or not the sportfishing guides and charters are all commercial fishermen. Their job is to crank out as many fish as possible which is fine but let’s go ahead and call it what it is.”

He also took issue with the observation that there was this year more than ever a huge financial incentive for setnetters to lowball their king catch either by rolling dead fish out of their nets and back into the Inlet, or taking them home to cook and then forgetting to report them.

Setnetters are not required to report fish rolled out of the nets, and though they are required to report all the kings they take ashore, there is no onsite monitoring of the fishery.

“You need to get out from behind your computer and actually go out and see how things are done before you start lying about setnetters being deceptive on reporting kings,” Clark wrote. “…This is the problem when you have someone that (sic) sits behind a computer and makes their living criticizing people that work their butts off in often dangerous situations and put in long hard hours to provide for their families. You talk about kings being bycatch for setnetters but say nothing about kings that are kept by dipnetters and sport caught.”

The claim dipnetters caught kings is interesting,  given that dipnetters were not allowed to harvest kings this year, and it would be hard to sneak one off the busy dipnet beaches without someone noticing.

And his accusation of “lying,” coming as it does from someone whose own reputation for honesty doesn’t look good, only underscores the arrogance of those in the commercial fishing business who think they own the fish.

State court records reflect that in July of 2005, Clark was convicted of making a false statement on state hunting or fishing license and paid a $300 fine. 

The court records don’t offer any more details, but the $300 fine is the standard fee imposed on non-residents claiming to be residents to save a few hundred dollars on the purchase of a hunting and/or fishing license.

The court files also reflect the state filed “false statement” charges against Clark again in 2007 and 2008. He was, it should be noted, accurately reporting his nonresidency to the CFEC at that time.

From 2005 through 2018, he claimed residency in Oklahoma in CFEC records. It appears he didn’t move to Kenai until 2019, the same year he told the Oklahoma bankruptcy court the Clark family was planning its future in the 49th state.

Debtor Russell Clark testified that he and his wife had been chicken farmers since 1993, and also raised cattle,” the court documents reflect. “The poultry operation ceased two years ago when OK Foods terminated their contracts, as well as those of other farmers in their area. Clark believes that OK Foods supplied them with infected chickens; OK Foods blamed the farmers for the poor condition of the chickens.

“Debtors are also in the commercial fishing business, with operations in Alaska since 2002. They do not intend to resume poultry or cattle operations, but intend to focus on salmon fishing in Alaska. They wish to keep enough property in Oklahoma to live on during the off season, and to sell the rest of their property to pay their debts.”

OK Foods is a major chicken producer with a processing plant in Heavener. It depends on contract farmers to supply the chickens. The claims of infected chickens could not be verified, but it is clear from the court documents the Clarks hit a rough patch and were selling off a lot of their property to pay their debts.

They were apparently looking at Cook Inlet as their fallback plan.

“They own real estate in Alaska, including a home in Kenai where they live during fishing season valued at $75,000, and a one-room cabin and five acres valued at $27,000,” the bankruptcy court reported.

“Debtors have two lifetime commercial salmon fishing permits issued by the state of Alaska. Each permit allows them to have two leases annually. They estimate the value of their four salmon fishing leases at $68,000. They move to Alaska in late May for salmon fishing season and return to Oklahoma in October.

‘They each fish in different locations in Cook Inlet, have four boats and four to six employees. They provided past and future forecasts for salmon fishing published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The 2019 forecasts are for a higher than average harvest.

“…Currently, they have no income but anticipate selling real estate and having an increase in income from fishing operations based upon the favorable projections for the 2019 season. Russell also proposes to work on a stone crab fishing crew in Florida during the winter months. He estimated his income from that endeavor to be $ 1,500 to $ 2,000 per week less weekly expenses of $400.

“Bonnie Hackler, trial attorney for the U.S. Trustee, stated that her office has concerns regarding Debtors’ income and ability to manage the duties of a debtor in possession in a Chapter 11. Debtors’ income has steadily declined since 2016. Their net profit from the fishing operation in 2017 was $ 20,165. Figures for 2018 were not finalized but at present there is no income stream.”

Bad to worse

The 2018 harvest was a disaster with the state reporting a catch of only 1.3 million salmon in the Upper Inlet, 61 percent below the 10-year average of 3.4 million.

The year 2019 was better, but not all that much. It came in at 37 percent below the 10-year average, according to the state. 

Then came the pandemic, and the worst season of all with both salmon returns and prices collapsing.

“The commercial harvest of approximately 1.2 million salmon was 65 percent less than the recent 10-year average harvest of 3.2 million fish,” the state reported. “The estimated exvessel value of the 2020 harvest of all salmon species is approximately $5.2 million, the worst exvessel value on record, and roughly 81 percet less than the previous 10-year average annual exvessel value of $27.0 million.”

Clark has every right to be angry about all of this. He looks to be a man cursed, but it’s not the fault of state regulators trying to maintain a troubled Kenai Chinook run or of dipnetters, anglers or Kenai River guides.

If anyone is to blame, it is Clark’s fellow setnetters who had decades to fix a bycatch problem that has been well known and much debated since the 1980s. But they chose to close their eyes and pretend there was no problem.

“Legal, historic harvest is not bycatch,” one of their mouthpieces and one-time chief enabler, Andrew Jensen opined in  Kenai’s Peninsula Clarion newspaper in 2013 when he was the editor there.

To some degree, he was merely echoing what some if not most setnetters believed for decades. And thus they went on catching, killing and selling Chinook in the foolish belief that there would always be a big enough surplus to allow the sockeye fishery to continue with its bycatch.

Or that they could apply enough political pressure on state fishery managers to force them to avoid closures intended solely to put more kings in the river.

As a result, when they really, really needed a tool to fish sockeye without catching kings, or at least catch sockeye with catching as few kings as possible, they didn’t have it.

If anything, Clark is a victim of this ignorant unwillingness to recognize and face the very predictable problems of mixed-stock salmon fisheries everywhere.

But it is always easier to point the finger of blame at someone other than your own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

57 replies »

  1. Re: Dave Mc

    Decades(8 different) dates me.

    Ruben Gaines and Chilkoot Charlie – Anchorage Memories.com

    Search domain anchoragememories.comhttps://www.anchoragememories.com/ruben-gaines-and-chilkoot-charlie.html
    In 1973, Ruben was named Alaska State Poet Laureate, and in 1985 he was inducted into the Alaska Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame. BONUS Now if you really want a treat, visit Alaska Oldies.com where you’ll discover two recordings of Ruben Gaines doing his show on KHAR radio.

  2. Cheer up, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, you can always take your chances by bending over and being entered up in the government vaccine lottery. “In more ways than one”
    Man this worlds F’d up.

  3. Russell Clark could be the poster child for how to not get into a business. He enters the Oklahoma chicken farm business without doing a proper business feasibility study and without that research back in 1993 he naturally didn’t expect Arkansas to be capable of polluting the Illinois River with so much phosphorus contamination from its chicken farms, that it would eventually be capable of destroying Oklahoma’s chicken farms.

    That phosphorus contamination was going on back in the 1980s so anyone getting into that business should have seen it coming with a little research. Lots of eager Oklahoma chicken farmers were so blinded by poultry profits that they failed to do that research. Oklahoma ended up blaming OK Foods for sending them “infected chickens”, while OK Foods blamed the poor farmer conditions of their chickens. Then the law suits started between Oklahoma, Arkansas and most of their big chicken processors. Some of those cases began back in 2005 and their courts still refuse to rule on them today because it is such convoluted monster legal and political mess. Rather than hopelessly waiting for those cases to somehow settle many of these farmers decided to give up, sell out and move on.

    This appears to be where Russell Clark came from thus ending up in Alaska and entering the Cook Inlet commercial set net business in 2002. Not doing a business feasibility study back in 1993 was the beginning of his poultry problems back in Oklahoma so you would assume he would do one for the business future of commercial set net gill netting in Cook Inlet. If he would have done that study in 2002 he would of seen that the king and sockeye salmon allocation user conflicts here in the Cook Inlet area contained all the same environmental, political and legal conflict ingredients that chicken farming had in Oklahoma and Arkansas back in 1993. In both cases Clark either ignored of dismissed these potential conflicts and pushed ahead without doing his investment homework.

    In both cases he invested large amounts of capital into businesses that could be completely destroyed by forces beyond his control. In both cases he enters those businesses believing he would be able to control those forces. In both cases he discovered that he could not control those forces. His solution in Oklahoma was to blame OK Foods and Arkansas for destroying his poultry business, so he moves to Alaska. He gets to Alaska and he blames sport fishing and Alaska’s fisheries mangers for destroying his gill netting business. The truth is that people make good and bad business decisions all the time. Honest people accept the consequences of their bad business decisions while dishonest people try to blame their misfortunes on someone else.

    For the past 20 years no rational business person could take an honest look at Cook Inlet’s fisheries resources and it’s many user groups and conclude that those conflicts will present a promising and stable business environment. With this information out there for all to see how does any honest person still decide to invest in a business based on that fisheries resource? Clark appears to be deliberately investing within resources and business environments that are unstable but possibly profitable. He takes the gamble and when it fails he just blames everyone and everything except himself.

    • Don,
      You are correct on some account, however there is always the lottery. Of course in this case the lottery is the much talked about buyback program that would pay roughly 15 times the amount of a permits current face value, and if this lottery ever occurs and the way it is currently structured a guy holding more than one permit is more likely than to to strike it rich. If a guy were to have bought a permit in the down times say around 2003-2005 it could represent a return on investment in the neighborhood of 40 times the original purchase price, not to mention all the earning during that time and let’s not forget about the various do government disaster relief bailouts over the years. There are honestly times when I think I should buy a lottery ticket…I mean permit.

      • Steve-O
        Few things rub me wrong more than “economic disaster relief”,given out to special industry groups, but especiallysalmon fisheries.
        What a crock!
        I have lots of glory day story trips/seasons.Overfilled with bounty, but there were economic low points as well,More than once working 18hrs/day for free,at risk of actually owing the boat $’s.
        Certainly not enough to make my own bills that came due.
        Never mind the idea of risk,especially winter fishing,
        Nothing like getting slammed all day, all night around Amchitka Pass from Jan-Apr for $2400 net.Or fishing for swordfish 200 miles from Marshall Island and delivering to Dutch,2 months for “free”.
        Ive always thought gill netters and seiners a whiny bunch with a certain level of entitlement.
        Just the opposite sentiment for trollers.

    • Don, you are spot on with a lot of what you said about the poultry business. Often a lot that starts out being profitable often changes with increased regulation, when the parent company is bought out by foreign buyers, etc.. As for being an unsuccessful poultry farmer that was not our case. At this time would I recommend. Spending millions getting into the poultry business? No. At this time would I recommend spending hundreds of thousands getting into Cook Inlet setnetting? No. However, I do not blame sportsfishermen or guides for the Cook Inlet setnet closures. As I have said before, I feel they are a vital part of this economy. Where I take issue is by setnetters being blamed and made out to be underhanded in their reporting of their harvests. F&G instructs us to report and turn in all Kings caught so they know what is out there. It’s a double edged sword because if we don’t report them they think they are not there. If we do then we are the bad guys. I report all of mine and all of the fishermen I know report them because they want to get paid for them. All it takes is for someone to go around to the buying stations and ask the fishermen and the processors and the biologists that are there to sample the kings before making accusations.
      One thing about it, when someone fights back Medred’s article gets more attention than usual.

      • Dave mc,
        I too am not in favor of economic disaster relief for fishermen You take your chances. In my 40 years drift gillnetting cook inlet, I have never received disaster assistance,other than a small amount of covid money I received which was available to most businesses, not just fisheries.
        Furthermore, I am not aware of any of my fisherfriends,and I have many, who have received disaster assistance. I have heard of fishery disaster declarations, but I always assumed they were in the form of low interest loans made mostly to processers to cover expenses. Please feel free to educate me if I am incorrect.
        Sorry that you consider gillnetters and seiners as whiners. Some certainly are. There are jerks in every business. The ones I know are for the most part hard working alaskans working at an honorable profession providing healthy food to folks who are unable to acess this resource themselves.

      • Gunner,
        Quick google search https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL34209
        http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/fishing/pdfs/2018_finaldraft_chigniksockeye_plan.pdf
        Among the people I know/knew in the salmon fleets, pretty common to take an advance in spring time to gear up for the coming season.
        Not so much in the Seattle schooner fleet, because we never sold to just one market,especially after IFQ implementation.
        Cash is cash,it moves from one side of the balance sheet to the other side all the time.
        I remember well one time tying up at Peter Pan dock in King Cove in march or April of ’82.Third boat out, a small 62′ Schooner FV Sunset.The utter look of disdain from somebody partying in the galley of a limit seiner, even though we took our lines to the pilings as any prudent mariner would have done considering the storm warnings that we had just navigated just to get to this glorious wintertime blow hole.
        This has nothing to do with who took cash/loan and who didn’t,but it forever tainted my view of salmon fisherpersons, that and there blatant disregard and heel dragging to raise the quality standards of the fish they were stewards of.
        I could be wrong, and correct me if I am, but I doubt that” providing healthy food to folks who are unable to acess this resource themselves.”,is the first thing that comes to your mind as your turning the hydro’s on for your reel.
        Most salmon are a beautiful thing, all salmon do Wonderfull things.
        I cant think of a better place to be than Cook Inlet doing what you love and being home at night, or at least back at the cabin.
        The problem with that is, theres a few hundred thousand others thinking the same thing, some personal use,including millennial claims,some guides/charters,and some with historical claim to a commercial fishery(s).
        Standing up and trying to trade blows just isn’t going to cut it except for the lawyer teams.
        So what are you going to do?

      • Gunner,

        I know plenty of fisherman who received disaster relief from the 2012 UCI/Kenai River king salmon shut down. The distribution was in the millions.

    • Interesting history, Don. I couldn’t find a story detailing any dispute between OK Foods and the farmers, but did find one outlining the whole water situation with the 2,363 chicken houses in Arkansas reported responsible for a lot of downstream flow of phosphorous into Oklahoma: https://www.enn.com/articles/16347

      And bad water is seldom good for animals of any sort. The chicken farming business in Oklahoma does sound like it is a real mess, pun intended. (https://www.oklahoman.com/article/2705291/clean-water-effort-may-be-too-late-phosphorus-from-chicken-litter-continues-to-threaten-supply)

      • Gern,
        I know several kenai river guides that received money for the 2012 king disaster. I don’t know any commercial fishermen that did. I will take your word for it, possibly the setnet fleet received funds.

  4. No one has sung the word “disillusionment” I don’t think ever and certainly never as eloquently as Alanis Morrissette:
    Thank you India
    Thank you terror
    Thank you disillusionment
    Thank you frailty
    Thank you consequence
    Thank you thank you silence
    I never even knew what the hell she was saying until I looked up the guitar chords.

  5. I saw more kings in the Kenai River in the last week than I have for many years and I’ve lived here for forty-two. Everyone I talked to was so glad to see the kings returning. The set netters have been lying about how many they were catching was the opinion of everyone I talked to about this situation.

    • Wait. ADFG stopped counting didn’t they? If so, are we seeing a later return which seems to be happening across other species of salmon? Nature finds a way.

  6. To further clarify some of Medred’s statements about me, I have never been “convicted” of anything in Alaska or anywhere else other than perhaps a traffic violation or similar. So my fines in Alaska occurred when I got pulled over by a trooper and my OK licence was expired. The trooper informed me that since I was living in Alaska for more than six months and working here and owned property here that I needed to get an Alaska drivers licence because of the residency laws. I did. I then purchased a hunting and a fishing licence as a resident. When several months later the Soldotna F&G called me up and told me that since I still had a homestead filed in OK I did not qualify as a resident and they would have to ticket me. They said that I could fight the ticket and had a good chance of getting it dismissed but I told them I would rather just pay the ticket. So I further contributed to the local economy!
    As for setnetters not trying anything to reduce us catching Kings, if Medred would have researched further he would have seen that I introduced an ACR to the Board of Fish that would enable setnetters to fish for sockeye during King shortages by a method that catches little or no Kings. This ACR will be considered later this year.
    I truly hope that Medred continues to do background checks on people that call him out on his false or dubious reporting and he dedicates articles on them. Then ya’ll will see why I called him a “talking head!”

    • I’m sorry Russell, but paying the ticket is an admission of guilt which = convicted. Not to mention that you’ve just confessed you’d been living here for less than a year.

      It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the Alaska fishing/hunting license requirement. There is now even a handy, online cheat sheet. Here is what it lists as the requirements:

      “…Are (you) physically present in Alaska with the intent to remain indefinitely, and
      have maintained a home in the state for the preceding 12 months and
      are not claiming residency in any other state or receiving benefits from residency of another state.”

      https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=license.residencyqualifications

      Is your problem reading comprehension or math?

      I’m losing my sympathy.

      • “reading compression” LOL. Is your problem dyslexia or an unhealthy reliance on us to edit? LOL

      • Thanks Chris. Fixed the typo. Now, I’ll raise you a “fro.”

        And yes, I do suffer from dyslexia and red-green colorblindness like about 10 percent of mail population.

  7. Wow! I must have kept Medred up all night with my last comment! Just goes to show you how little of a person he is when someone criticizes his articles and calls him out when a lot of what he is writing is not true. A lot of you don’t realize when he feeds you a line of crap because many of you aren’t in the setnet business. But as all can see Medred has a bug up his ass against us setnetters. I just wonder if an East Side setnetter ran off with his wife or something! I guess if I did a background check on him like he did me I would find out.
    Medred makes comments about me not reporting my King catch. I report all kings I catch. All he has to do is pull my catch records. I sell what I catch. The very few kings that I catch bring up to $7 a lb. that king is then checked by the biologists to see where it was going to go. It is then processed by a local processor that employees mostly local people. That processor then ships that king by local shippers to whomever buys it at probably $30-$40 a lb which pays local wages. The people that work here for the shipping company get paid. Whomever buys the a portion of the king either serves it in a restaurant where it generates income or it is cooked at someone’s home. Either way, whoever finally eats the king wants to come to Alaska to catch one. That person then spends a lot of money to come up here to catch one. It’s all connected. Same with sockeye.
    As for my personal business, I have spent my life feeding others. My commercial hog operation (which Medred missed), commercial poultry operations, commercial cattle operation, and commercial fishing operation has fed millions of people. I am proud of what I have spent my life doing. I do not hold any animosity towards the sports fishing industry here because it is a vital part of our economy and people need to have the opportunity to fish. However, Medred only reports numbers and many false statements that make the setnetters to look like we are the culprits. What I’m saying is to report everything. Medred reported the other day about flounder bycatch in our setnets. He made it sound like we are killing off the flounder. Very few flounder I catch in my nets are injured. I have actually caught the same flounder several times. They are hardy fish and there are a lot of them because nobody commercial or sports catches them. But Medred hasn’t ever netted them so he is just going to say we kill them.
    One thing I will also say is that yes We filed bankruptcy as Medred states. But what Medred didn’t report is that we have been selling our farms and paying off every penny of our debt through these sales. Farms we built up from nothing and that we employed local people and produced jobs and fed people. We are almost out of it with one more sale to go. I don’t consider myself cursed but fortunate to have had a profession that has fed so many people. I love setnetting and I love Alaska. I can’t stand people that stir the pot with false reporting.

    • To quote: ” I have actually caught the same flounder several times?”

      Really Russell?

      What sort of tag did you put on him, or did he introduce himself? I mean, I hate to say this in these politically correct times, but starry flounder do all sort of look alike.

      Wait, wait. Did you genetically fingerprint him/her there on the beach? Now that would be a story.

      • Ever seen a fish with a scar in a certain place or missing a piece out of it! These are easily recognizable and when you fish the same spot over and over and keep throwing them back. Of course again you wouldn’t know this since you aren’t out there!

    • Russell, you are from Oklahoma. You should know Better. Your dishonest statement claiming that much of what Mr. Medred writes is not true is an unfounded personal attack. It falls under the category of libel . If you did it with malice and knowledge and intent to damage reputation without proof while knowing that your statement was being untrue then you could be facing primie facie . In Oklahoma they would just take you outback. I see why you didn’t make it there . When my family lived there with james gang, Oklahomans would not have taken your unfounded verbal abuse gently. Best that you find a different state .
      A failed chicken farmer calling someone a talking head is one for the ages. I can just see Russell bobbing in out among the chickens- squawk squawk —
      What you don’t get Russell is Medred is trying to help save your fisherery before its gone forever. You should join forces with him and help each other save the kings and related economies.

      • Russell: do you really think people will believe that you caught the same Flounder “ several times” Really? Because it had the same scar or was missing a piece? Come on Russell. You know better! .
        It is one thing to speak up for your fellow set net fishers. But your lack of credibility and even more importantly, inability to recognize the absurdity of your arguments makes you the last person they would want to be speaking on their behalf.
        I repeat: Stop digging!

    • I appreciate your courage to fight back Russell. Thanks for doing so. You have got under Craig’s skin fro some reason. Good job! LOL

      • Lying is not courage. When a person prints libel and lies about someone and their professional efforts it might be time to take the ink cap off . Russell’s attack through use of lies isn’t fighting back its below the belt hits that resonate beyond a personal insult. It misrepresents the facts regarding an important Alaska heritage and resource- Alaska king salmon. His mistruths were unfair after the bell eye gouging , striking from behind in the dark. Such libelous writing Convoluted the issue and makes it hard to trust a reporter . Does Russell really think an outdoorsman who has been in Alaska since the early 70s working as a professional reporter hasn’t been on a few commercial fishing trips as crewman and heavily rubbed elbows enough to know what goes on ? Guessing medreds been around the state more than most . Medred is just trying to do a public service (reporting- its a pretty thankless job ) attacking the messenger does no one any good. If Russell said shit like that to a fisherman in a bar in kodiak dutch or any major fishing port it wouldn’t go well. I wonder if Russell has even been out that far . You wouldn’t say what Russell said to someone . So he had no business writing it . Lying is not fighting back . Its lying. Dishonest and shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere ,especially among reputable men . Mistakes everyone makes . Lying after you turn 10 is not courage. Fighting back would be getting the correct data and presenting it . Or if Russell was a real fighter he would dig into the problem and help save the kings and his fishery in the process. Russell is not that kind of person as his court history states . He blames others for his mistakes and tries to take advantage of the system like his illegal license ticket showed. Russell keep your shit talk on your own pig farm . We see it for what it is .

      • No! Russell did not get “ under Craig’s skin” Chris. All he did was to dig his lack of credibility hole deeper. As you seem to be doing.
        Your snide remark about Medred’s spelling of one word illustrates that you know little about auto functions on computers.
        And, trust me! You would be among the last persons he would want to edit his product. He is way out of your league.

      • Fro?

        People don’t get under my skin, Chris, but misinformation does. Anyone who thinks they can tell starry flounder A. from starry flounder B. without tagging A. before releasing it is either being foolish or pumping out bullshit.

    • For as long as I can recall, Medred is up at all times of the night and day, just like a lot of us.
      It’s Alaska, a lot of us are on a rolling 24 hour clock. Things can be accomplished at any hour on the clock up here.

  8. The history of commercial fishers responding to the difficulties of managing harvest is sadliy repeated in the plight of Clark that you detailed.

    • Missed in all of this is that there are now petitions being prepared Outside for consideration by NOAA to list individual anadromous fish species in specific river systems as threatened and/or endangered. None in AK that I know of. Yet. Commercial fishers should take note.

  9. “Unfortunately, because set gillnets are indiscriminate in what they catch” -Craig

    We’ve discussed this in the past, but gillnets are not exactly indiscriminate. Depending upon the target species a different size mesh is used and they primarily catch that size of fish, in this state they are generally used in targeted fisheries making them even more discriminating. That’s not to say that they do not catch other fish, birds, or mammals but the way gillnets are fished in this state they are one of the more discriminating methods used.

    • Wonder how Mr. Clark and the other setnetters would feel about mandatory observers? Having seen it done, I do not believe their self reported roll out numbers. They have been purposely lying about this for many years.

      • I don’t have a problem at all with an on board observer. It is common in many fisheries. It would also do away with a lot of misinformation on what goes on on a setnet operation. Any biologist that wants to go out with me is welcome. He won’t see many kings in my nets though.

      • Pretty sad state of affairs to think we may need observer coverage for commercial set net fishers. But when “every King counts” there is incentive to cheat the system. Because every set net permit holder in the ESSN fishery knows that each King salmon they report killed, whether kept or not, is just another nail in their coffin. And accepting the word of someone, who is greatly incentivized to lie about their harvest will only provide false information.

    • Agreed. “Not exactly indiscriminate.”

      In this case, the reality is that they are not discriminate enough. They are great for avoiding bycatch of little fish you don’t want, the kind that can swim right through the mesh.

      That has led to some speculation and some actual research about whether this is why the size of Alaska sockeye has been shrinking for decades. The research concluded this size selectivity – small sockeye swimming through the mesh, big sockeye getting caught – is probably not to blame.

      But don’t tell that to UCI gillnetters convinced that Kenai River king salmon have shrunk radically in size in recent years because of the handful of truly big kings removed by anglers.

      • Craig,
        You are correct in that the size of sockeye returning to the river systems in s.c. alaska has been shrinking. I wish that the answer to this scenario were as simple as increasing mesh size. Don’t forget, we commercial fishermen get paid by the pound, not the fish. Also, I have been told by my buyer that one reason cook inlet sockeye bring a higher price than other areas was because of their size compared to bristol bay and other areas. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.
        The fact is ,the smolt outmigrating in the spring are much smaller than they were in the past when escapement goals were smaller. This would possibly indicate more competition for food in the freshwater lakes.
        Also, recent studies indicate some salmon may be spending less time in the salt before returning to the stream of their origin. Be interesting to find what the theories are for this occurence.

      • First off, all North Pacific sockeye appear to be shrinking. It’s not just Cook Inlet. It’s been a slow, steady change for decades now. https://craigmedred.news/2018/03/12/shrinking-salmon/

        Secondly, studies of smolt out-migrants from Oregon north to Alaska have shown conflicting differences in the survival and the growth of smolt of various sizes. There seem to be a lot of variables at play once the fish leave lakes.

        Meanwhile, I’m not sure of what studies you are referring to as regards less time in salt. There are studies from the Bay showing sockeye spend less time in freshwater. Warming temperatures there have been credited with smolt maturing faster in freshwater and going to sea earlier.

        This has produced the monster returns of recent years, albeit of smaller fish.

        Some of those fish actually then spend an extra year at sea, which UW researchers, who have done a lot of work in the Bay, attribute to competition for food in a sea now stuffed with U.S. and Russian salmon. https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/06/04/early-lives-of-alaska-sockeye-salmon-accelerating-with-climate-change/

        If Kenai fish have a food competition problem, it would appear more likely to involve the explosion of pink salmon in Southcentral Alaska than smolt numbers in Cook Inlet region lakes. Look no further than Hidden Lake. Its smolt production is so low that hatchery fish have been added for years to try to boost production with little success.

        Maybe you should lobby CIAA to stop that stocking just to see if the low number of smolts causes a boom in returns to Hidden Lake to buttress your theory that the problem is freshwater competition.

  10. Not to pile on to commercial fishermen, since I do think most are honorable people doing an honest living at a tough job, but former Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) board member is in trouble with the law again…the last time was noted here https://craigmedred.news/2018/08/09/framed/

    Location: Homer
    Type: Commercial fishing closed waters violation
    Dispatch Text:

    On 08/21/21 Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Anchor Point post, cited both Mark Roth 68 YOA of Homer, and Christopher Perry 63 YOA of Homer for commercial fishing inside the closed waters of the Bruin River.

    • Most commercial fshermen are honorable. But it doesn’t take many rotten apples in that barrel to make the whole barrel look bad, especially when the good ones embrace the bad ones.

      UCIDA’s ongoing love affair with the outlaw Roland Maw present terrible optics.

      • Similar to the love affair that many alaskans have with kelly tshibaka, guilty of similar crimes. Just because a person has made mistakes in their lives, doesn’t necessarily make them unfit to serve .

      • Gunner:
        I was unaware that Kelly T had been convicted of anything. Please tell us what are the “similar crimes” she has been found guilty of. Am I missing something.
        Do you really think the single non provable charge against her is equal to the multiple convictions Roland Maw now has on his record from Montana and the 8 felony counts on which he is awaiting trial are similar? Really! Is your antipathy for her so great that you are blinded to reality?
        Why you and your commercial fishing friends continue to minimize the seriousness of the conduct of Maw is incomprehensible. And it is costing you all big time:

  11. Sometime in the late 80s or early 90s there was a proposal circulated which proffered a state buyout of ESSN sites. All Kenai bound reds and kings would enter the river. The reds would be funneled off and harvested. Basically, the optimum escapement would pass through and the remainder would be harvested. The product would be a much improved quality as they would be gutted, bled, and chilled immediately in a controlled environment. There was a lot more to it, but of course, it didn’t get far, and though I did make a donation to the cause, we all knew the odds were long. It won’t be too many more years until the foreign fish farms will squeeze out the ESSN permit holders. Many Alaskans stand by the theory that our wild caught salmon are the best there is. That might be true if the commercial set net caught fish was handled like the reds we personally dipnet, or catch on rod and reel, i.e. gutted, bled, and chilled. That’s not the case. The set net caught fish is a long way from the quality you serve on your table.

  12. applause for Mr Medred! and for Mr Perry’s comment, it is true Craig has a mike and a barrel of ink, but the major difference is Craig has an obligation to at least attempt objectivity while Mr Clark’s diatribes are so off base and corroded with subjectivism as to be ludicrous.

  13. I have seldom seen where someone who calls another a liar has the “false statement “ ( aka perjury) spear hit him between the shoulders with such deviating accuracy. God help anyone who chooses to call Medred a liar. Not smart!

    That “someone’s” credibility has now been shown to be as dead as the many King Salmon he probably rolled out of his nets or failed to report. However, It is not the first UCI permit holder found to be found to be a liar. I seem to recall that that the former director of Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association was found guilty of something similar in Montana and is still awaiting trial in Alaska for lying under oath. And these are leaders or spokesmen for the commercial Set Net and Drift Net sectors in Cook Inlet? Where do they get these guys?

  14. Having many setnetter friends, I feel for their plight, but Mr. Clark should learn that you can’t win when differing in a public argument with the man who holds the mike or buys his ink by the barrel.,

    • Well said, Mr. Perry. Makes one hesitant to post a comment on this site no matter how strongly one feels about the subject, when he takes into consideration that he is an amateur debating with a professional wordsmith with decades of experience. Better not say anymore or the next topic just be about my many failures in life.

      • Gunner: To live is to fail. We all have failures. They seldom become pertinent in the context of the news.

        But, if you’re going to publicly call other people liars, you might want to make sure that a.) they are lying; and b.) that your closet is clean of things that might make you look like a hypocrite or, worse yet, someone who throws the liar tag around as a propaganda tool.

      • I recall a time years ago when the late, great Herb Shaindlin was running down trappers on how unethical and inhumane they are. Being a trapper at the time,I called his radio show , prepared to educate him on a subject I felt I was intimately familiar with and a subject he had very little knowledge of. That highly educated professional talk show host made me look like a fool. Was sorry I made the call until months later I received a thank you from a trapper friend who happened to be listening that night in his lonely cabin on the alaska peninsula.

      • Gunner, you are a good man . Keep it up . He that serves others is greatest. My hat is off to you .

      • My Father told us kids, “Remember, when You point Your finger at Someone, three fingers are pointing at You”. That said, if You are right and feel strongly about a subject, full speed ahead….

      • One time, Walmart was having a tent sale. As there were a variety of items for sale at a great price, it was heavily attended. As I stood near the back of the line, Herb approached with a stainless steel dog dish with heat cord attached. “In the dog house again, Herb”? Planning ahead for winter?”, I said in a voice louder than necessary. Everyone turned and looked. It was probably one of the few times Herb was speechless. BTW, I was fortunate to have shared laughs with Herb, Ruben Gaines, and Steve Agbaba. I met Steve on the pipeline when Jesse Carr dispatched him as a boom truck driver. We laborers had to run the boom for him. He was a real prankster and loved playing cards and baseball.

  15. Thank you Craig. I recent article in Alaska Journal focused on the plight of the ESSN. The interviews with the setnetters reeked of entitlement. They couldn’t understand how “they’re fish” were going unharvested. It was all about “their lost money.” All I can say is when you hitch a ride on a public resource, the ride is bumpy and no one is guaranteed a livelihood.

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