KRSA executive director, Ricky Gease, spoke with Channel Two news yesterday regarding the summer fishing season, in particular the troublesome low return of Kenai River king salmon. He discussed the following points:
• The Kenai River king salmon fishery is the crown jewel of North American sport fisheries – voted number 1 for best sport fishing experience in the United States. It anchors an 800 million dollar sport fishery in Cook Inlet.
• This year we had an unprecedented closure in the late-run Kenai River king salmon sport fishery, which may or may not have met escapement, and the early-run sport fishery was closed and the return did not meet its minimum escapement goal.
• For the fourth year in a row the late-run Kenai River king salmon return is at or below the minimum escapement of 17,800 spawners.
• Past closures of the Kenai River king salmon fisheries have impacted future trips by anglers for up to five years, so this year’s unprecedented closure in the July late-run will be felt by sport fishing and tourism businesses for years to come, even if the fisheries remain open in subsequent years.
• With just a few openers, the commercial east side set fishery has harvested more king salmon than the commercial drift fleet and the in-river sport fishery combined.
• As to next steps, KRSA will once again submit an Agenda Change Request (ACR) to the Alaska Board of Fisheries this fall to put the issue of Kenai River king salmon management on its agenda for deliberation. The commercial set net industry has vigorously opposed any such attempts to examine how best to reconfigure both sport and commercial fisheries to ensure necessary minimum escapements while prosecuting viable fisheries.
• KRSA continues to support king salmon fishery research that would help design a commercial set net fishery that could greatly reduce harvest of king salmon. All such attempts at this discussion have been met with strong opposition by set netters; if the commercial set net industry does not step up to reconfigure its fishery to minimize harvests of king salmon, the expectation should be to sit idle like this year as we face continuing issues of low king salmon abundance here on the Kenai River and statewide.
• The suggestion by some in the commercial fishing industry that we can work our way out of this through increased hatchery production is dead on arrival – hatchery returns this year to the Kasilof were worse off than the wild stock returns. This is an ocean survival issue that won’t be solved through hatcheries.