The state Board of Fisheries has its triennial round of Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meetings in just a few weeks. Fishermen and other interested parties are putting together their final comments on proposals.
The Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee met last week to debate some of the proposals that will be heard in Anchorage next month. Committee chair Mike Crawford says king salmon are again one of the hot topics.
“So far, the biggest torn vote we had on anything was Proposal 108, and it went 5-4. That’s a proposal by the Kenai River Professional Guide Association.”
That proposal has to do with the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan, and specifically, it seeks to reduce how many hours commercial set gillnets would be allowed to fish, based on restrictions placed on king salmon fishing in river.
The late run king plan looks be a star of the show when the Board of Fisheries convenes in Anchorage. Crawford says he expects a lot of discussion about escapement goals, as those numbers are the basis for deciding just how many fish will be available for harvest by all the different user groups.
“Many people on the sportfishing side of things wish Fish and Game would manage toward the top end of the goals instead of the bottom end of the goals, which they may be doing. But the perception is that they’re not doing that. And my thought is that commercial fisheries are managed around opportunity, where inriver fisheries are managed around ‘hey, we met our minimum escapement goal. It doesn’t mean there was good opportunity to harvest fish or catch fish.”
He says what he doesn’t want to see is action on proposals that place an outsized burden on one user group over another.
“There’s always proposals that seem to be more punitive; more against a group than for a group. There’s always going to be that. And there are certainly (proposals) that are too big a penalty in many people’s minds, one way or the other. We try to stay in the middle of the road, but in my mind, conservation of the fish is important.”
Despite a good year for sockeye returns in 2019, it remains both the late and early king salmon runs that will likely dictate the management direction again in 2020 and in any long term policy decisions taken up by the Board. And as always, the sticking point is at what location will those kings be subject to the wants of fishermen? In the ocean or in the river?
“You’ve got the commercial fleet that wants to say ‘hey, this is how we’ve always fished it.’ They don’t want to give up their side. And the inriver fisheries, they don’t want to give up anything on their side either. If we had a ton of fish and could make everybody happy, we probably still wouldn’t be happy.”
The Board meets for two weeks beginning February 7th. Comments on the proposals are being accepted until January 23rd.