Kenai River anglers ask board to take up king salmon plan

Kenai River Sportfishing Association is asking the Board of Fisheries to take up king salmon management outside the normal cycle in response to a late-run return that might have fallen below the lower end of escapement goals.

In comments prepared for the board work session Oct. 4-5 in Anchorage, Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported the late run of king salmon to the Kenai River was at or below the lower end of escapement goals for the last three years.

According to ADFG, the late-run Kenai kings missed the lower end of the escapement goal in 2009, were “at or near the lower end” in 2010 and there is “some probability” the escapement was below the goal in 2011.

The ADFG comments were in response to an agenda change request, or ACR, filed by Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

The Upper Cook Inlet board cycle had its three-year meeting this past March, and for it to take up the Kenai River king management it would have to accept an ACR to consider it at an upcoming meeting.

Based on the five indices used to measure the late Kenai run, ADFG wrote that he 2011 return was “well below the recent nine-year average and was most similar to the runs of 2009 and 2010.”

The escapement goal range for late-run Kenai kings is between 17,800 and 35,700.

To satisfy the criteria to take up an issue outside the three-year cycle, a conservation purpose, an error in regulation or an unforeseen effect of a regulation must be the reason for the board to accept an ACR.

KRSA asserts the conservation and unforeseen effects are in play, and that new information concerning an iconic Alaska salmon stock offers a compelling reason to take up the matter.

In its comments, ADFG does not agree with KRSA that the ACR meets the criteria for the board to take the matter up out of cycle.

ADFG wrote that it has sufficient assessment tools and in-season management authority through closures, bait restrictions, no retention by dipnetters and requiring catch-and-release by anglers.

Citing emergency order No. 41, which closed the setnet fishery Aug. 7, KRSA noted the ADFG comments that, “Based on similarities of the indices in 2011 to these years (2009 and 2010), it is likely that the escapement goal will not be achieved without passing the remaining Kenai River king salmon into the escapement.”

“Never before has ADFG indicated that late-run Kenai River king salmon did not attain minimum escapement, much less for a third consecutive year,” KRSA concludes.

Its ACR would have the board take up the Kenai River management plan to examine whether ADFG has the proper assessment tools and if not, should not establish numeric triggers if it cannot assess the run with better certainty.

The KRSA request also states that, “the burden of conservation be shared more equitably between the sport, personal use and commercial set net fisheries during times when yields are estimated low or when achievement of the escapement objective is in doubt.”

Controversy arose at the end of the sockeye season when ADFG announced Aug. 5 it was opening 56 hours of fishing for setnetters between two periods over the weekend of Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, followed by the normal Monday opener Aug. 8.

Setnetters catch the vast majority of king salmon taken by commercial fishermen. This season the setnetters caught 6,893 kings compared to 511 for the drifters.

KRSA described the decision as putting “greed over conservation” and issued a vote of no confidence Aug. 5 in ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell.

Midway through the Sunday, Aug. 7, fishing period, managers determined that the setnet harvest would fall below 1 percent of their season harvest for the second consecutive day. That triggers the closure of the setnet season and restricts drifters to the west side of Cook Inlet.

In its ACR, KRSA wonders what happened between the Aug. 5 announcement, which made no mention of the king return being below average, and the Aug. 7 closure:

“KRSA asks, ‘how the acknowledged imprecision around estimating in-river return of late-run king salmon could suddenly be resolved to the point where ADFG could know that the spawning objective would likely be achieved at the time they issued [the Aug. 5 opener] but then just 48 hours later use the likely failure to meet the objective as a justification for closure?’

“This confusion or lack of clarity in the management plans and their implementation contributes significantly to the jeopardy in which we find late-run king salmon of Kenai River origin.”

KRSA also filed an ACR for the board to correct errors in regulation regarding the Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon plan. The ACR is to reflect the board’s intent at the March meeting to pull the drift fleet out of the middle of Cook Inlet (Area 1) and restrict it to a corridor along the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for one of two regular fishing periods per week between July 9 and July 31.

As written and codified April 21, the regulations written by ADFG would have allowed the drift fleet in both Area 1 and the corridor in both periods each week.

The board attempted to correct the regulations at an emergency meeting June 30, but an Anchorage District Court judge sided with commercial fishermen who challenged the action and threw out the revised regulations.

At an Aug. 8 emergency board meeting, the board voted 4-3 to delegate responsibility for correcting the regulations to Campbell under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The comment period for that action ended Sept. 12. If Campbell does not adopt the board’s preferred version of the regulations, the four-member majority of Karl Johnstone, Tom Kluberton, Bill Brown and Mike Smith indicated they would do it themselves at a future board meeting.

If the board accepts KRSA’s request, it can set the matter for a meeting before the 2012 season while it waits for a final decision from Campbell.

09/29/2011 - 9:40am