After today’s decision by the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) to not accept the emergency petition from Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) regarding conservation of late-run Kenai River king salmon, KRSA has formally requested that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) take immediate emergency regulatory action to assure continued restriction on the harvest of late-run king salmon bound back to the Kenai River for the remainder of the run in 2012.
Record low numbers of late-run of king salmon are returning to the Kenai River in 2012. ADFG has made it clear that the minimum end of the escapement goal range for late-run Kenai River king salmon will not be achieved and that there is no harvestable surplus. As of July 31, ADFG estimated that 85% of the Kenai king run is completed; through July 29 the cumulative DIDSON sonar passage was 12,208 king salmon, with 658 the estimate for the daily passage on July 29. With 15 percent of the run estimated to return in August, approximately 2,000 kings remain to enter the river, still leaving the expected final tally at only 75 percent of the minimum escapement.
Most provisions of the management plan that governs the harvest of this important stock of fish, 5 AAC 21.359 Late-run Kenai River King Salmon Management Plan, expired on July 31, 2012 and with them the mandatory closures of the sport fishery and commercial set net fisheries in the Upper Subdistrict. This year restrictions and closures were put in place by ADFG for the purpose of putting the maximum number of late-run king salmon on the spawning grounds of the Kenai River. This important stock of fish must be assured of receiving continued protection through the remainder of the run timing, not just the remainder of July, if we are to sustain its productive capability and truly provide for its sustained yield at some acceptable level in the future.
The regulatory relief that KRSA suggested would come from utilizing emergency order authority to extend the time period during which late-run king salmon receive maximum protection both in the Kenai River and on the beaches of the Upper Subdistrict of Upper Cook Inlet. Emergency order action of this type would include a prohibition on the use of bait for sportfishing for any species in the Kenai River beginning immediately and extending through August 15. Sport fishing for silver salmon began today and although fishing for king salmon is prohibited after July 31 it is not uncommon for anglers fishing for silvers with bait to incidentally hook king salmon in the lower and middle river.
KRSA has said repeatedly during the 2012 late-run that every possible late-run king salmon should be allowed to spawn. Likewise, emergency order authority should also be used to immediately end the set net season in the Upper Subdistrict of Upper Cook Inlet for the 2012 season. Set nets cannot be fished without resulting in mortality of late-run Kenai River king salmon. As constitutionally mandated, conservation must come first.
KRSA understands how difficult it is to restrict and close fisheries – conservation measures have tangible and significant impact on the economic, social and recreational values derived from our salmon fisheries. As BOF chair Karl Johnstone said during today’s meeting, “The fish must come first and ahead of the fishermen.”
We give ADFG great credit in having restricted and closed fisheries for conservation purposes thus far this season and strongly encourage them to continue to put the fish first.