Sport fishing group begs governor to halt disaster - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, September 20, 2021
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Sport fishing group begs governor to halt disaster

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An economic and conservation disaster is unfolding on the Kenai River, says the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. But  Cook Inlet commercial fishery is proceeding as if everything is normal.

The group is calling on the governor to stop further set net fishing until more kings and sockeye salmon enter the Kenai River.

Sport fisherman, guides, and outfitters say the season has been nearly a complete loss for them.

“Consistent with salmon management plans for Cook Inlet, the Board of Directors of Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) respectfully asks you to direct the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to stop further commercial set net fishing until more kings and sockeye salmon enter the Kenai River. Failure to do so now could jeopardize sustainability of future returns and will further jeopardize an already failing sport fishing and tourism economy on the Kenai Peninsula,” the group wrote to Gov. Bill Walker on Friday.

“Escapement goals are not yet assured and while commercial fishermen have harvested almost one half million sockeye salmon and 1,700 king salmon so far this season, the public fisheries are offered almost no harvest opportunity because of the low numbers of fish entering the river,” the group said.

Commercial set netters have harvested more than 10 times the number of large-size king salmon than have sport anglers, according to KRSA. Commercial fishers have harvested 1,816 king salmon as of July 9.

“Upper Cook Inlet ADFG commercial fishery managers are now considering whether or not to deploy any or all of the commercial fishery this Saturday or Sunday. Managers must resist the temptation to fish even some of the gear available. We need those fish in the river. Keep the entire set net fishery on the beach until there are more fish in the Kenai River!”

ADF&G issued a sportfishing restriction for roadside streams starting Monday, with gear restricted to one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure. The restriction runs through the end of the month due to low kings among returns.

Sockeye harvest numbers are lagging, with the commercial fleet landing 307,086 sockeye by July 9. Last year, the fleet had caught nearly twice that.

As for the river, by last week just 51,308 sockeye had passed the sonar on the Kenai River, half of what had appeared in 2017.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments


    They need to shut down the commercial charter industry that is killing the big hens. It’s hard to take KRSA serious when it’s one commercial interest pitted against another. From what I’ve read almost 90% of the commercial net fishery caught are the small kings that are no longer counted on the Kenai, and how many of the commercial net caught kings are even Kenai kings? Stop twisting numbers to serve your commercial desire KRSA, if you care about the Kenai king you would be calling for a complete moratorium on king fishing on the Kenai.

  • Steve. I agree that a complete closure of any fishery in Upper Cook Inlet that kills Kenai River Kings should take place. Btw that would include the ESSN set net fishery. They harvest and through drop outs, kill a lot of Kings. I assume that when you call for a “complete” moratorium on King fishing on the Kenai, that you include any harvest by the commercial sector. How can that be achieved so long as they put nets in the water that WILL kill Kings? . Or do you think that it is ok for the set net fishers to kill them so long as the sports and dip net fishers are not allowed to keep any?

  • SteveO

    KRSA wrote to the Commissioner of Fish and Game two weeks ago asking for the sport fishery in July to start with catch and release and the set net fishery to limit to no more than 24 hours per week, in paired restrictions.

    He chose not to. Two weeks later, commercial fisheries have harvested 1,800 kings – historical average is that 40 percent are Kenai bound and larger than 34 inches. Based on historical averages, that equates to 720 Kenai bound over 34 inches.

    Sport fish data shows anglers in the Kenai River have harvested about 70 Kings over 34 inches to date.

    That’s a 10 to 1 ratio, commercial fish to sport fish harvest of large Kenai kings.

    But let’s suppose you are right – all those commercial caught Kings are just small and 90 percent are less than 34 inches.

    That means only 10 percent are Kenai bound over 34 inches, meaning 180 Kenai bound larger kings.

    And again Kenai anglers have harvested about 70 kings over 34 inches to date.

    So commercial fisheries have harvested 2.5 times the number of larger Kenai kings, and that is with your assumptions twisting the numbers the way you want to show them.

    With many king and sockeye fisheries across the state closed or severely restricted, this was not the year to manage as if everything was going to be normal on the Kenai.

    And now we are behind in both Kenai king and Kenai sockeye sonar counts and have to play catch up to make up lost ground on escapement.

    • Ricky,

      Please don’t tell me I’m twisting numbers when I’ve done nothing of the such. All I did was ask a few questions and point out numbers I’ve read. You on the other hand, damned near fell over backwards twisting the numbers to serve your commercial interests. You are talking about what happened historically, not this year, and you have access to this years numbers just like everybody else…that’s twisting numbers to serve your purpose.

      My interests are simply trying to see that enough kings survive so they will be here 10 years from now and 20 years from now and 100 years from now, not to line my pockets. Glad to hear they further restricted king fishing, now they just need to get rid of catch and release.

  • I don’t have a problem shutting down set netters where it makes sense to protect Kenai kings. If you look at the numbers the set nets catching the majority of kings are near the Kasilof, so are the Kenai kings also returning to the Kasilof?
    Just like it makes sense not to kill kings in the river it also makes sense not to kill fish entering the river, the key is deciding where that line stops, if it’s nets on the Kasilof beach then so be it but we should use common sense and science to prove it before shutting everything down. Common sense and science says killing fish in their spawing river in a time of low abundance is absurdly stupid, doing it for money then suggesting that other commercial operations should be shutdown first is also absurdly stupid.

    I’m a sports fisherman, I do not commercial fish, and I have no family that commercial fishes in either the commercial charter fishery or the commercial net fishery.

  • Stop killing salmon on their spawning beds. KRSA is just another mouthpiece for the commercial charter industry & lodge owners on the Kenai River. There didn’t seem to be a King problem on the Kenai until the commercial guides showed up. At least restrict them to non-motorized drift fishing only.

    • I have never seen a king on the Kenai try to spawn at eagle rock. Guides don’t fish spawning grounds and you damn well know it. I am not a guide but when moose and goose has emergency openings while the run is totally way down, that is one question that has to be asked… How much money is changing hands, politically or otherwise to keep allowing these commercial emergency openers for comfishers?

    • John Velsco:
      The anglers have caught less than 70 Chinook, many of which were less than 28” while the amount of those “reported” by the net fisheries are around 1500. And then there is the unknown number of drop outs from their nets that, unlike the 6% mortality rate attributed to C&R, have a 100% mortality rate. Given the number of permits and the miles and miles of gillnets the number of drop outs could be quite high. Yet the Dept never mentions them in counting Chinooks killed by the nets. Yet it does assess C&R mortality against the anglers.
      Both fisheries admittedly have contributed to the problem, but it seems that you and the others who favor the commercial sector want only to blame the anglers and require only them to bear the burden of conservation. Does’t sound fair to me.

  • Steve-O and John: While a majority of the kings to date have been caught in the Kasilof subdistrict, the amount of Kenai vs. Kasilof origin king salmon will vary from year to year. So that is why we used the ADFG generated historical average of .40 of all commercial harvested kings in the central Cook Inlet are Kenai River king salmon larger than 34 inches. In-season data is not always readily available and can vary over the course of the return. The percentage is based on science – the department runs genetic samples of the commercial east side set net harvests of king salmon, and each year those get incorporated into the historic average.

    In terms of spawning beds, the early run Kenai River kings spawn primarily in tributaries, which are closed to sport fishing. Additionally, each tributary has a large king salmon fishing closure area built into the regulations to protect king salmon that are staging in that area. KRSA as well as other groups of anglers led the charge to get those king salmon tributary closures in place.

    In terms of main-stem river spawners, Kenai kings enter the Kenai through mid-August and the average spawning date is August 21. Fishing by sport anglers closes for Kenai River king salmon after July 31 – there is no fishing for kings by anglers in August. Thanks for the discussion.

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