Changes to the fisheries management plans in early February for late-run Kenai River Chinook salmon, aimed at protecting critically low numbers of kings, will curtail fishing hours for set gillnet harvesters, and impose gear restrictions.
In an effort to assure adequate escapement of salmon into the drainages of the Northern District of Upper Cook Inlet, the Alaska Board of Fisheries also offered more time for the drift gillnetters to fish for Kenai and Kasilof sockeye in early July, but restricted the inlet-wide fishery later in the month to allow for greater passage of northern bound salmon.
Sport anglers applauded the board’s decisions, while commercial harvesters said the changes would inhibit their harvests.
The decisions came during the board’s Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting, which began Jan. 31 in Anchorage and continues through Feb. 13.
“Even when they go to hook and release… they continue to play and have a good time at the expense of East Side setnetters,” said Christine Brandt, a set net harvester from Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula.
When they go to catch and release, setnetters get one 12-hour opener a week, with a mandatory 36-hour closure that has been in regulation for years, “ and we better hope we don’t miss the run,” she said. “If the run comes through on a Friday, it’s gone, and we lose big time.
“We’re still trying to recover from the 2012 season, and 2013 wasn’t that great,” she said.
“We’re excited to rebuild the kings, but it will hammer the amount of money we will make,” said Brent Johnson, a member of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association.
Johnson spoke after the board approved some changes to the management plan aimed at ensuring an adequate escapement of late-run king salmon into the Kenai River system, stocks to be managed primarily for sport and guided sport uses.
While commercial and angler groups have expressed concern for dwindling Chinook salmon stocks and the need to rebuild them, they differ on how this should be done.
The decision of the seven-member board allows for paired restrictions, giving the Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers the power to reduce sport and commercial harvests when the numbers of returning king salmon are low.
Commercial harvesters have expressed concern that the intention of one Kenai Peninsula sportfishing group is to halt the use of set nets in all non-subsistence areas of the state.
Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in January rejected an initiative brought by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance to put the issue on a statewide ballot.
Treadwell, now a candidate for the US Senate, cited the advice of the Alaska Department of Law, which determined that the proposed measure was a prohibited appropriation under the Alaska Constitution.