KRSA contends that ADFG is operating the 2012 season “outside” of the codified in-river king salmon management plans and thus are making decisions that allocate fish between sport, personal use, set net and drift net fisheries; decisions that should be made by the BOF. A few questions that should be answered by the BOF are:
1. What contribution do very small numbers of fish saved by management actions in sport, personal use or commercial fisheries make to sustainability?
2. At what social, recreational and economic cost?
Let’s take a look at some specific examples in affected fisheries.
In the specific case of the sport fishery: If the loss of the small number of fish expected to be killed in a catch-and-release fishery is not likely to make a meaningful contribution to the sustainability of the resource, should all sportfishing opportunity have to cease?
The fishery staff of KRSA cannot answer this question because questions like this must be answered through deliberations by the BOF, not ADFG. What we do know is that the sport fishery for early-run king salmon in the Kenai River was restricted by Emergency Order on June 13 to catch-and-release only.
Catch-and-release only is a regulatory tool commonly used to manage sport fisheries. The expected effect on catch rate and harvest can be estimated with a degree of certainty. For the early-run king salmon fishery in the Kenai River the restriction to catch-and-release only after June 15 was expected to result in reducing mortality to no more than only about 50 fish than would have been expected if the fishery would have been closed on that same date. Under catch-and-release fishing, opportunity still exists and some portion of the potential economic value of the fishery can still be realized by the community. Total closure of the early-run fishery on June 22 is expected to reduce mortality by about 25 fish compared to continuation of catch-and-release through the end of June….25 fish.
In the specific case of the commercial set net fishery: If the loss of the small number of early-run king salmon expected to be killed in the first openings of the commercial set net fishery off the Kasilof River are unlikely to make a meaningful contribution to the sustainability of the resource, should the commercial set net fishery lose the opportunity to fish for sockeye – the primary target of the fishery?
Again, the professional fishery staff of KRSA cannot answer this question because questions like this are appropriately the business of the BOF, not ADFG. What we do know is that the commercial set net fishery for Kasilof River sockeye salmon opens by regulation on June 25 with regular periods on Mondays and Thursdays and the possibility of extra time through emergency openers if abundance of sockeye salmon warrants.
A review of historical harvest statistics indicates that about 100 king salmon are reported killed for each day the commercial set net fishery is in operation. Small numbers of late arriving early-run Kenai River king salmon are present on those beaches (remember that 25 fish made the difference between sportfishing opportunity in the Kenai River and total closure). Very few sockeye salmon were present prior to or on June 25, 2012 and the Department wisely closed the first period by emergency order stating that king salmon conservation was a balance against achieving the escapement goal for sockeye in the Kasilof River.
As this season progresses from the early-run fisheries in June to the late-run fisheries in July more decisions will have to be made and management of the commercial set net fishery will be a very important component of the total approach to king salmon conservation.
Many of our members and members of the public are asking, “Will there be a consistent approach to management of the king salmon resource within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game across the Sport Fish and Commercial Fish divisions?”
Another more important question is whether ADFG should be putting itself in the position of allocating fish and fishing opportunity, as they did when they closed sport and commercial fisheries that would have killed a very small number of early-run king salmon.
Can the Department acknowledge the limitations in their ability to estimate abundance and at the same time justify major disruptions to important fisheries in an effort to save these very small numbers of fish? How will saving small numbers of late-run king salmon, if need arises, impact all fisheries? Questions like this should be more appropriately deliberated and answered by the BOF.