July 25th, 2012

Think About It………                                                                                                  July 25, 2012

Where are the Kings? That’s what everyone in Alaska is wondering this summer. 

In an unprecedented action, The Alaska Department of Fish and Game completely shut down all King Salmon fishing in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers this month of July. Even “catch and release” has been forbidden, no one can target King Salmon when they are fishing the rivers and accidently caught Kings must released and not removed from the water.

So, what’s going on?  No one really seems to know but there are all kinds of guesses out there.  In the river itself many wonder if the new fish counters are giving correct information. Can the new counters tell the difference between species? What about too many guides, some 600 now, and extremely high fishing pressure over the years?  How about failure to close all King fishing in sensitive areas like the mouth of the Killey River where hundreds of Kings  congregate waiting to go up the Killey to spawn. Salmon are easy to catch there, and hundreds are, with eggs in the fish loose and ready for spawning?

Others feel that because many other Alaska rivers have devastatingly low King numbers, the problem may be in bi-catch by trawlers in the high seas where Kings spend several years. Long time biologists in Oregon are blaming a change in ocean currents which moved West Coast Kings north to Alaska in the 1970’s and are now changing again to favor the West Coast and hurting Alaska.

With all guessing aside, the fact remains that the chances are very good that the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers will be far below the minimum King Salmon escapement goals set by the department. 

Now, here come the Sockeye salmon to complicate decisions that must be made to save the Kings. For the first time ever set-netters on all eastside Kenai Peninsula beaches are not being allowed to fish at all for reds. That’s because the Kings run near the beaches on their migration to both rivers and the ADF&G feels that the incidental catch of Kings by set-netters must be curtailed at all costs.  

That creates a whole new set of problems. Set-netters, many of whom live all year right here on the Kenai have lost not only their entire income for the year but all their expensive start-up costs as well. The dollars they spend in local businesses will be non-existent this winter. Then there are the millions of red salmon that are not being harvested by set-netters. Those millions of fish will end up in the rivers and spawning grounds with over-escapement that may cause the problem of a very low Sockeye runs in the years to come.

Then, how would you like to be a set-net fisherman with nothing to do this year but watch the thousands of people from all over the state, converging on the mouth of the Kenai river and dip-netting all the Sockeye salmon that would normally support your business as a set-net fisherman. And then, in top of that, seeing the record catches of reds the drift boat fishermen are harvesting everyday.

Sport-fish river guides and Peninsula set-netters are being devastated this summer and it makes one wonder if before long they will become nothing but a part of history like the same folks on the west coast who, with their resource depleted and given to Indians, have all had to find other ways to make a living for their families.

Think About It!      JCD   7-25-2012

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