Commercial set net fishermen on the East Side of the Kenai River on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula were closed down on Aug. 8 in the wake of an earlier emergency order from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game giving them 56 hours of continuous fishing.
The standard closing date for the East Side set netters is Aug. 15, but there is a “one percent rule” which says that the set net fishing may close any time after Aug. 1, if the set net catch less than one percent of the season total sockeye salmon harvest for two consecutive fishing periods. Prior to 2011, a fishing period was defined as the start of fishing to the end of fishing, which meant a fishing period could have been made up of one or two days or more, but this year the Alaska Board of Fish redefined a fishing period to be a calendar day not to exceed 24 hours.
Commercial fisherman Rob Williams, president of the Kenai Peninsula fishermen’s Association, said set netters don’t think the shutdown was justified. Williams said that early on in the sockeye season, there were strong escapement counts of late run kings and a high rate of exploitation of those kings by sport fishermen. Then the count slowed down and the Alaska Division of Sport Fish got nervous, he said. “We take the brunt of this stuff,” he said, “ because there were no restrictions on sport fishermen. Eventually they took bait away, but not until the end of July for a few days. The restrictions we faced were no fishing the hours allotted to us in the management.”
Because this year’s return was “off the charts,” the highest number of fishing hours was allowed under management, but the commercial fisheries division restricted set netters to get a higher flow of king salmon into the Kenai River, he said. “What they did this year was decouple our fleet,” he said. “Generally when the drift netters are fishing, the setnetters are fishing, but since we catch more kings than they do, they let them keep fishing and took us out of the water.”
The Kenai River Sportfishing Association saw the situation differently. They said they were concerned about the lower end of the escapement goal range for late run kings not being achieved. KRSA urged the Alaska Department of Fish and Game this past weekend to provide assurance that the lower limit of the spawning goal range of 17,800 king salmon be met, or that the agency take whatever management action was necessary to bring the final number of late-run kings spawning in the Kenai River as close to that number as possible. The agency then closed down the setnet fishery.