A new escapement goal for late-run Chinook salmon into the Kenai River approved in mid-February by the Alaska Board of Fisheries has some commercial harvesters on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula concerned that it will limit setnet opportunities.
On Feb. 14 the board approved in a 5-2 vote substitute language for proposal 104, which was submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA), to manage the late-run Kenai kings with an optimum escapement goal (OEG) of 15,000 to 30,000 large fish. The provision will be in effect from June 20 through Aug. 15. From 2013 to 2016 the escapement goal was the same, but it was based on late run Kenai kings of all sizes.
KRSA said in its proposal that current regulations did not provide adequate protection of escapement or equitably share the king salmon conservation burden. The commercial setnet fishery contends KRSA continues to catch a large percentage of the combined sport and commercial harvest share as king runs continue to languish at low levels.
Commercial setnetter Paul Shadura of the South KP Independent Fishermen’s Association, said he felt that the board’s action will limit commercial setnet opportunities in Cook Inlet and may even close them down for the summer.
“There appears to be a historical decline (of kings) and none of these stocks have been declared a stock of concern,” Shadura said. “They have taken these actions without declaring them a stock of concern. They are making allocative decisions based on opinion and less on the science involved,” he added. “There are no stocks of concern, yet we are putting in place management plans on allocation with very little information to support them.”
Shadura’s comments were echoed by other commercial fishermen who harvest on the Kenai Peninsula who declined to speak on the record. They also expressed concern that the current Alaska Board of Fisheries has no representatives from the Kenai Peninsula, no setnet fishermen and a predominance of board members from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, with very little rural representation. As a result, they do not understand the baseline economies of these (Kenai Peninsula) communities and how their decisions affect the economy of these communities and the processing industry, Shadura explained.
“The board, when they make decisions, they don’t look at people like me, whose families have been here 100 years,” Shadura said. “What is needed is for the Legislature to create a processional board with designated seats, and the commissioner has to be independent; otherwise we are managed by the ballot box instead of science”.