The Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) king salmon task force held its final meeting February 14 and closed up shop without much fanfare or consensus on a final recommendation, but not without undertaking some of the most comprehensive discussions yet on the subject of conservation of late-run Kenai River king salmon. The task force adopted a “compromise” work product from Dwight Kramer as a template for discussion, and then after lengthy conversation voted 5 – 4 on just about everything of substance with votes split along partisan interests between sport and commercial users.
The final work product of the task force now moves on to the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) as proposal 249 for consideration during its Statewide Finfish meeting March 19 – 24 in Anchorage. Public testimony will be taken at the meeting, with a written public comment deadline of Tuesday, March 5.
The task force was created by the BOF after the 2012 season in response to historic fishery closures justified by the smallest number of late-run Kenai River king salmon ever observed. The mission of the task force was essentially to identify the best mix of fishing opportunity during times of low king salmon abundance and the best means of attaining the escapement goal. The great challenge was defining best mix, best means and selecting the most appropriate escapement objective. Discussion undertaken by the task force initially bounced off just about every old gripe and whine that has become part and parcel to the Cook Inlet fishery saga. But in the end there where two basic issues:
- the escapement objective, and
- the question of how the burden of conservation should be shared between the sport and commercial set net fisheries.
Unfortunately, the final work product of the task force does not fully address the initial goals as set forth by the mission statement. In parts two and three, we examine how well the “final” recommendation of the task force achieves its stated mission of attaining the escapement goal of late-run Kenai River king salmon while providing the best mix of fishing opportunity to user groups.