Board declines request to cap Kodiak sockeye harvest

The Board of Fisheries won’t take up an out-of-cycle request to cap Kodiak sockeye salmon harvests during certain periods of the season, though it won’t be the last time the issue comes up.

The board declined to accept an agenda change request that proposed a new management plan for the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the Kodiak Management Area setting weekly and seasonal limits on sockeye harvest. The request, submitted by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, raises concerns brought to light in a recent Alaska Department of Fish and Game genetic study showing that Kodiak commercial fishermen catch hundreds of thousands of Cook Inlet-bound sockeye salmon during the summer.

An agenda change request, if accepted, would have added the proposal to the docket for an upcoming meeting within the next few months, as opposed to waiting until the next Kodiak cycle meeting in 2019–2020. However, the board members rejected it, with some saying they agreed it was a conservation concern but that an agenda change request was not the right venue to address it.

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association wrote in its request that the proposal was based largely on allocation concerns after the revelations of the Kodiak sockeye harvest sampling study.

“Now … with the aid of genetics, we know much more about the timing, locations, extent and magnitude of the harvests of the Cook Inlet origin salmon stocks,” the request states. “This ACR is a first opportunity to look at the harvests of Cook Inlet stocks in the Kodiak Management Area.”

The study, originally presented at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Kodiak in January and again at the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February, analyzed genetic information from sockeye harvested in select areas of Kodiak during the commercial fishing season. Over three years, the researchers put together a picture of which sockeye stocks are harvested in the Kodiak fishery, ultimately finding that most of them were Kodiak-bound but a portion were Cook Inlet fish. In one year of the study, Cook Inlet stocks contributed 37 percent of the total harvest in the sampling areas, with the other two years less than that.

The Board of Fisheries requested that the researchers further analyze the data to break out stream-specific stocks within Cook Inlet for the work session. Fish and Game geneticist Kyle Shedd presented those results at the meeting Thursday, again cautioning that the results shouldn’t be applied too broadly because the researchers didn’t sample all the areas and it was only a three-year study.

According to the stream system breakout, the Kenai River contributed the most fish to the Kodiak sockeye harvest, at more than 5 percent in 22 of the 47 time periods analyzed. Kasilof River and Susitna River sockeye were less common, correlating with the size of the runs on the three rivers.

Read the rest of the article here.

Smallest sockeye harvest in last 10 years; late runs made openings complex

Sockeye salmon were scarcer in Upper Cook Inlet this year, but coho, chum and pink salmon were more plentiful than expected.

Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet harvested fewer overall salmon this year than average, and made less, according to a season summary released Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Sockeye harvests were smaller than average, and they showed up late, frontloading the commercial fishery with most of its sockeye catch for the season before July 20.

Fishermen were expecting a slow year, based on the preseason forecast, and the actual harvest was slightly larger than the forecast. Commercial fishermen brought in about 1.8 million sockeye, according to the season summary, compared to the preseason forecast of 1.7 million sockeye.

“The Kenai River run exceeded the forecast by approximately 700,000 sockeye salmon and Fish Creek exceeded the forecast by 4,000 sockeye salmon,” the report states. “The Kasilof River sockeye salmon total run estimate was very close to forecast with approximately 4,000 sockeye salmon less than expected, while the number of sockeye salmon returning to the Susitna River and all other systems (minor systems) was less than forecast.”

The commercial sockeye harvest was the smallest in the last decade, about 18 percent lower than the 2007–2016 average, according to the season summary. Altogether, fishermen harvested about 3 million salmon of all species, about half a million fewer than the recent 10-year average.

Sockeye are the most valuable species on the books for Cook Inlet fishermen — about 93 percent of the value in a typical year is in sockeye salmon. In 2017, it was about 83 percent, or $19.6 million. Average price per pound paid to fishermen fell around $1.86, according to the season summary.

It was a middle-ground price compared to other years and other areas of Alaska — last year, Upper Cook Inlet fishermen received an average of about $1.51 per pound, while they received an average of $2.18 per pound in 2013. The volume was smaller, though, leading to total season exvessel value 21 percent below the recent 10-year average, according to the summary.

“It was a real small harvest expectation,” said commercial fisheries area management biologist Pat Shields. “We exceeded it by a little bit. … It’s not the strongest by any means, but it was a good price that helped the harvest. And the coho run helped — it came in late but pretty good.”

Late run timing left managers puzzling on how to schedule commercial openings. Historical models showed that the Kenai River sockeye run should have been about 40 percent complete by July 20, when managers re-evaluated the run size, but it was still only at about 265,000 fish, though commercial fishermen had harvested about 1.4 million sockeye.

The sockeye run has been late to show up in the rivers before, but the one this year was exceptionally late, Shields said. Final calculations are still in the works, but he estimated it was between four and seven days late, which made it hard for managers to decide whether to open up commercial fishing with the expectation the fish would show up or close commercial fishing on the off chance the fish didn’t show up at all. This year, they erred on the side of caution and closed the fishery twice to boost passage.

“(Managers are) really nervous about taking that late of a run timing prediction in the middle of the season and believing it,” Shields said. “We knew it was going to be late. … It caught us off guard, both sockeye and coho, and we took restrictions on the commercial fishery.”

After those closures, the sockeye showed up in force, and managers exceeded their escapement goals on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and on Fish Creek at the end of the season. None of the margins over the goals were wide, but it was frustrating for the managers and for the fishermen who were restricted from fishing in season, Shields said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Board of Fisheries Observations Part 6

In Part 4 we mentioned that the Board had been given incorrect data from ADF&G during deliberations on Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery proposals. The incorrect information included inflated rates of overall northern coho exploitation and an inflated rate of the drift catch of coho in full-inlet openings versus Area 1 openings. As it turns out, recent research data shows that the drift fleet catches fewer coho in full inlet openings than when it is restricted to Area 1, south of Kalgin Island. The Board was given the corrected data after deliberations.

We’ve been hoping that the Board would regard the corrected data compelling enough to reconsider proposals to restore additional time and area to the drift fleet. On this final day of the meeting, it appears that they are not willing to reconsider.

Only two changes were made to the Drift management plan. Between July 16 and July 31, in the middle tier for Kenai sockeye (2.3-4.6 million), we may get one district-wide opening instead of being restricted to Area 1. The other change is an alignment of the boundaries of the Expanded Kasilof Section with the Anchor Point Section.

The Mat-Su Borough opposed that minor adjustment, claiming that it would target more of their coho…  Mat-Su spokespeople impressed everyone with their greed during the meeting. Now they are pretending that the Board has done them wrong:

From the Valley Frontiersman:

Board of Fish Lowers the Boom on Mat-Su Basin fisheries (3/2). In a 4 to 3 vote by the Alaska Board of Fisheries in Anchorage today, the Mat-Su Basin fisheries were dealt a blow. The commercial drift gillnet fishing fleet will be allowed more time in the Conservation Corridor—a protected fish passing lane to the north, hard won by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish & Wildlife Commission at the last board meeting in 2014 and staunchly defended this week before a Fish Board, which was mostly deaf to the conservation plight.

By the way, the Mat-Su Borough representatives were also given the corrected data about drift exploitation of coho but they have never let science interfere with their efforts to eliminate commercial fishing.

Board of Fisheries Observations Part 5

We’ve been very disappointed with the outcome at this meeting for all of the reasons mentioned in the previous reports. On the other hand, this is the first Board meeting in a long, long time where we gained anything at all.

The atmosphere of the meeting has been much improved. Commercial fishers and proposals from commercial fishers or groups have been treated with the same respect as other user groups, rather than the disrespect shown to us at previous Board meetings. Chairman John Jensen has set a new example on that matter. We hear that KRSA is outraged that the Board is treating people decently and fairly.

KRSA has a bunch of paid consultants here including Kevin Delaney, Mac Minard and Ray Beamesderfer. These guys are also on the Mat-Su Borough’s payroll for this.

UCIDA doesn’t have any paid consultants. Audrey is our only paid staffperson here, on her normal salary. UCIDA folks who have attended, on their own time, include Board members Dave Martin, Erik Huebsch, Dan Anderson, John McCombs, Ian Pitzman, Dyer VanDevere, Steve Tvenstrup and Dino Sutherland,  Members Steve Vanek, Teague Vanek, Catherine Cassidy, Wes Humbyrd, Brent Keene, Bob Merchant, Bob Wolfe, Mark Mahan, Judd Walker ,David Hillstrand, Bruce Gabrys, Ray Bellamy, JR., Coby Wilson, Jeff Widman, Brent Western, Eric Nyce and  John Gucer.( If anyone was left off the list, please accept our apologies.)

Representatives from Pacific Star, Icicle, Snug Harbor and Inlet Fish have also been in attendance.  Our thanks go to them.


Board of Fisheries Observations Part 4

Part 4

UCIDA brought proposals to the Board to restore full-inlet fishing time and eliminate the 1% rule.

The Board decided to restore only one full inlet opening between July 16 and July 31. They declined to eliminate the 1% Rule in August for the drift fleet.

Our proposals were based on new science that shows that it is not possible to selectively harvest particular stocks. The net result of time and area restrictions has been under-harvest of Kenai and Kasilof sockeye (producing chronic overescapements) and under-harvest of other surplus coho, chum and pink salmon. This has cost the industry and the local and state economies millions of dollars.

Opposition to our proposals, as usual, was primarily based on Mat-Su sockeye and coho exploitation rates. ADF&G provided bad exploitation data that had to be corrected after the Board made their decisions on the proposals. ADF&G ultimately used the exploitation rates of Little Susitna River and Jim Creek to convince the Board not to restore more full-inlet fishing time or eliminate the 1% Rule.

For years UCIDA has documented and argued the inappropriate use of the Little Susitna River and Jim Creek as index streams for coho exploitation. Intense sport fish pressure, discontinued coho stocking programs and serious urbanization effects on their productivity should have ruled them out long ago. We have also recommended that the state should restore coho stocking programs in those systems (a relatively inexpensive endeavor).

The Mat-Su anti-commercial fishing people have refused to allow stocking of those systems. We can only interpret that as their intent to use those streams as tools for continuing to chip away at all commercial fishing effort. ADF&G has documented that there are more than a million surplus, unharvested coho in the Northern District. But no one can harvest them because coho sport fishing in Jim Creek has to be restricted. Really?!

Board of Fisheries Observations Part 3

The drift fishery in Upper Cook Inlet has been increasingly restricted since the 1990s in efforts to allow more sockeye and coho salmon to reach Mat-Su drainages. Since the 1980s, invasive northern pike, introduced by residents, have been spreading through the Mat-Su drainages and endangering, through predation on juveniles, production of sockeye, coho and king salmon populations.

ADF&G and the Mat-Su Borough took no action to effectively control the spread of the invasive specie, nor measure the effects on salmon populations, nor even acknowledge that there was a potential problem for salmon productivity. They had been stalwart in their denial of the problem through the last Board cycle in 2014. During this Board meeting, they have finally acknowledged that there is a problem but they have no plan or intention of mitigating the situation.

The Mat-Su Borough’s position regarding the invasive pike problem is to insist that commercial fisheries be increasingly restricted to compensate for their production problem. Unfortunately, the Board has bought into this approach again.

Board of Fish Observations Part 2

UCIDA went into the Board meeting with high hopes of utilizing recent scientific data to restore some fishing time and areas. Once again, science has been overwhelmed by propaganda.

KRSA and the Mat-Su Borough have continued their strategy of condemning commercial fishing’s legitimate harvest of surplus salmon stocks. This is a subtle, twisted argument that implies commercial fishing gets more than a fair share. The fact is that only commercial fishing can effectively harvest the enormous surplus of salmon in Upper Cook Inlet. That’s why there has been a commercial fishery here for more than 135 years.

One of the ways they use this strategy is to react to any increase in commercial fish opportunity by insisting that any more fish we get comes out of their share. This is not true. There are abundant, unharvested surplus stocks of sockeye, coho, chums and pinks in Cook Inlet. Increased harvest of the surplus by commercial fishers does not take anything away from other groups, it just increases the total utilization.

UCIDA carefully explained this reality in comments to the Board, including very simple, descriptive pie charts. The alternative (wrong) reality of increases in commercial causing decreases in other users’ opportunity for harvest, has been repeated over and over again by KRSA, Mat-Su representatives, and Board members Payton, Morisky and Cain.

What the BOF is ignoring….

WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – March 1, 2017 – In his first address to Department of Commerce employees this morning, newly confirmed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross included U.S. fisheries among his top priorities for the department.

In a list of ten challenges facing the Commerce Department’s 47,000 employees, including the launch of more NOAA satellites and changes to the methodology of the 2020 U.S. Census, Mr. Ross specifically identified the need for “obtaining maximum sustainable yield for our fisheries.”

Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) refers to the largest catch that can be sustainably taken from a fish stock over an indefinite period of time.
Promoting sustainable fishing by achieving maximum sustainable yield is one of the primary goals of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the chief law governing fisheries management in the U.S.

The U.S. commercial fishing industry is a vital part of the U.S. economy, with landings of 9.7 billion pounds of seafood in 2015 worth $5.2 billion, according to the latest “Fisheries of the United States” report from NOAA Fisheries. Nevertheless, nearly 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S.
is imported into the country.

Mr. Ross has previously expressed his support for domestic fisheries and his desire to reduce America’s reliance on seafood imports, which has created an
$11 billion trade deficit for the U.S. seafood industry.

“Given the enormity of our coastlines, given the enormity of our freshwater, I would like to try to figure out how we can become much more self-sufficient in fishing and perhaps even a net exporter,” Mr. Ross said at his January confirmation hearing, according to Politico.

Mr. Ross was confirmed in a Senate vote 72-27 Monday night. He is a successful billionaire investor and founder of the private equity firm WL Ross & Co., from which he has agreed to divest as he takes on his new government role.

Board of Fish Observations

Part 1

Bring your hipboots or chestwaders to the Board of Fish meeting.

KRSA and the Mat-Su Borough have been adamantly insisting that every minute of commercial fishing in Upper Cook Inlet is a terrible assault on the opportunity for sport or personal use fishing. They argue this vague “opportunity” concept while ignoring scientific data.

“Opportunity” is not a scientifically defined regulatory measure. It is a nebulous concept that is easy to manipulate. KRSA and Mat-Su representatives persistently imply that “reasonable opportunity” is hooking a coho salmon every 15 minutes on any waterway with a coho population or dipnetting 10 sockeye per hour.

They have a wicked double standard on “opportunity.”  They say that it is just fine for commercial drift fishers to spend 4 to 6 days fishing in restricted areas in order to harvest the same amount they could catch in one unrestricted opening. Inefficient use of fuel, time, energy and processor’s extra costs – no problem. But they are broadcasting the new complaint that they are “under attack” from “reallocation by a thousand cuts.” (Wonder how much they pay PR pros to come up with their little sayings? Wonder why they aren’t spending that money on conservation?)

Board of Fish News

Board of Fish adds 1 district-wide opener for drifters

A commercial drift gillnetting boat leaves the mouth of the Kasilof River at about 1 a.m. July 17, 2014 during an overnight fishing period in Kasilof, Alaska. (Clarion file photo)

Upper Cook Inlet’s drift gillnet fleet will get another 12 hours of fishing time in July, but no one is 100 percent happy about it.

For one, the drifters feel like it wasn’t enough. The Board of Fisheries approved an amended proposal at its Thursday meeting that states the commercial fishing managers may open up one fishing period between July 16 and July 31 in the Central District, where before they were restricted to only part of the district. Since they have been restricted to fishing in the corridors, which parallel the shore and keep the fishermen from being able to traverse the entire inlet, they say they haven’t been able to efficiently harvest sockeye salmon, leading to overescapement into the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

“It’s token,” said Erik Huebsch, vice president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

Many sportfishermen feel like the board is chipping away at the commercial fishing restrictions too much, reallocating Cook Inlet’s highly contested salmon populations to the commercial fishing fleet. Chief among the complaints is concern for the Matanuska-Susitna Valley’s coho salmon, which have been on the decline for at least the past decade. Sportfishermen in the valley say the drifters are blocking too many salmon from moving up into the northern streams, corking off the salmon populations and furthering the decline.

In the back of the room Thursday, sportfishermen shook their heads as the measure passed. Mike Crawford, chair of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said the board’s decisions so far this meeting have not been good for sportfishermen.

The blame game washed back and forth on Wednesday, with Mat-Su Valley fishermen and officials blaming the sockeye and coho stock declines on the drift fishermen and the drift fishermen blaming the stock declines on conditions in the valley. The discussion was notably civil compared to previous years, but the disagreements were sharp.

It’s a long-standing conflict. In 2008, when Susitna sockeye salmon were designated a stock of concern, it triggered restrictions on the drift fleet intended to prevent harvest of northern-bound sockeye and coho salmon as they passed through the Cook Inlet. Although drift fishermen have never denied that they harvest northern-bound sockeye and coho, they say the decline is because of poor production due to shallow lakes in the valley, widespread predation by invasive northern pike and pathogens in the water that affect salmon.

Read the rest of the article here.

43961 K-Beach Road, Suite E
Soldotna, Alaska
(907) 260-9436

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