Cook Inlet salmon task force considering new proposals


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Public input on Upper Cook Inlet fisheries management has continued, with a proposal for the Kenai River late-run King Salmon Management Plan likely to come out of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force this month.

The task force will likely hold its final meeting regarding the plan on Feb. 14.

In January, Board of Fisheries Member Tom Kluberton, co-chair of the task force, said the body is doing a good job of working together —perhaps the best of any task force he has seen.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is recommending some changes of its own, including a reduction of the escapement goal for the Kenai River. The proposed new goal is 15,000 to 30,000 chinook salmon.

Both Kenai River Sportfishing Association and Eastside setnetters have drafted proposals outlining how they’d like managers to try and meet that goal.

The setnetters introduced their plan at the January task force meeting. It would provide for emergency order management for the setnet fishery when the chinook run is projected to come in below 15,000 fish. Regulations would also be imposed on sport and personal use fishermen at that point. Below 11,000 fish, the setnet fishery would be closed entirely.

The KRSA plan, introduced by task force member Kevin Delaney, has normal management measures, as well as three step-down pairings for the sport, personal use, and east side setnet commercial fisheries, and one step-up.

Normal management is called for when escapements would be between 22,000 and 30,000 chinooks; the step-downs occur between 15,000 and 22,000 fish, and below 15,000. The step-up occurs above 30,000 chinooks.

Essentially, the KRSA calls for more conservative management measures. KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the setnetters proposal would allow for fishing at lower escapements than the sportfish association thinks is acceptable.

Ultimately, Delaney, a sportfishing member on the task force, said he thinks the KRSA plan makes it likely that both sport and commercial fishermen would have the opportunity to fish.

In times of conservation, setnetters would be reduced to fishing twice per week, and sportfishermen would stop using bait.

“I think there’s a high probability of success,” Delaney said. “We’re very positive about this.”

Delaney said the KRSA plan uses the same framework as all sonar-based management has. By being conservative, it also acknowledges the imprecision in run estimates and takes into account management error.

“This builds on a lot of success strategies that have been implemented and adopted in the past,” Delaney said.

The task force isn’t the only body discussing Upper Cook Inlet management.

The Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee has been working on a letter regarding Upper Cook Inlet management.

That letter is in response to in-season management. Fishing opportunity was severely limited when the chinook run came in low, even when escapements for other species were projected to do well.

Gease said KRSA wasn’t upset about that side of management. But the association is concerned about the department’s proposal to lower escapement goals. The Kenai River hasn’t seen a chinook run of less than 22,000 fish, so KRSA would rather see more conservative management below that number, Gease said.

The department has said the new goals are interim, and based on a better understanding of the new sonar counter performance and how the fishery is doing. ADFG transitioned fully to DIDSON, or dual identification sonar, counters in 2012 after three years of side-by-side testing using split-beam sonar counters.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has also been talking fisheries. In December, the borough aired several radio commercials regarding the summer 2012 management. After the task force’s February meeting, management plan changes will likely be considered by the Board of Fisheries at its statewide finfish meeting in Anchorage, March 19 to 24.

That’s when ADFG’s changed escapement goals will also be considered.

Chinook research plan

ADFG’s Chinook Salmon Research Team has also published its Chinook Salmon Stock Assessment and Research Plan.

The plan looks at 12 indicator stocks for chinooks. In Southeast, those are in the Unuk, Stikine, Taku and Chilkat rivers. The Copper, Susitna and Kenai rivers would be studied in Southcentral, the Karluk River on Kodiak Island, and the CHignik River on the Alaska Peninsula. For the northern portion of the state, the Nushagak, Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers round out the proposed study areas.

The proposed studies include enumeration of adult escapement, estimates of juvenile abundance during smolt stage, nearshore marine surveys, and a suite of local and traditional knowledge studies.

The plan also outlines several knowledge gaps, including basic elements of the chinook life cycle and productivity changes, and notes that long-term study is needed to make any of the research effective.

The plan was drafted by ADFG biologists in conjunction with federal agencies and academic researchers.

According to the plan, the biggest component to be funded is $3 million for stock-specific escapement or in-river run assessments. Smolt assessments come in at about $2.5 million, harvest assessments at $1.8 million, and marine surveys and modeling at $1.6 million. Other components are $500,000 for long-term knowledge assessments, $700,000 for process studies, and $500,000 for programmatic support.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which is currently up for discussion and revision as the Alaska State Legislature meets in Juneau, included $10 million for chinook research. That would be the first of a five-year $30 million research effort.

The $10 million would be in addition to the $14.6 million ADFG typically spends each year on chinook-related research and management.

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, also has a bill in the legislature that could fund chinook studies in the future. HB 49 bill would create an endowment that includes a fund, grant account and oversight body, all designed to benefit chinook salmon in perpetuity. That’s currently in the House fisheries committee.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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