Beyond the Kenai river

Most reasonable people can see that our Kenai River kings are in trouble but can they also see that we have many rivers around the state that have the same trouble? It is defective reasoning to conclude that Kenai River access is the sole cause of our statewide king salmon problems. This kind of defective reasoning usually results from individuals who are making money catching and selling things other than king salmon, mainly Pollock and sockeye. In general king salmon get in the way of these people making millions of dollars, therefore incidental harvest or by-catch is not their primary concern. These people then point accusing fingers back at anything other than themselves.

The above finger pointing attempts to blame Kenai River anglers for causing a statewide king problem, therefore those anglers should get additional angler restrictions. These people desire to stop Kenai River angler access but they are also willing to add on “a side order” of commercial by-catch restrictions along the way.

From 1970 to 1990 millions of dollars worth of commercial crabber vessels were built and used to harvest / devastate our Alaska crab fisheries. With the bulk of our crab then gone these vessels were then converted into commercial Pollock trawlers, which hammered away at our Pollock resources from 1990 – 2007. This expanded trawler presents then began killing and dumping around 100,000 – 200,000 adult king salmon annually. This trawler fisheries then produced a commutative resultant of lowering our statewide king stocks. These trawlers officially recorded killing and dumping at least 3 – 4 million adult king salmon during this time period and that removal resulted in a general statewide reduction in our king stocks. This was not a marine environmental “down-turn”, it was an increase in commercial fisheries by-catch of king salmon.

If you require evidence take a look at the many other rivers around Alaska, which are also experiencing a dramatic reduction in their king runs. All of the following rivers are seeing greatly reduced king runs like the Kenai but they lack angler access. Karluk River, Ayakulik River, Chignik River, Nelson Lagoon (sapasuk) River, Kuskokwim River, Unuk River, Stikine River, Taku River, Copper River, Susitan River and the Chigni River. These rivers basically lack the negative Kenai access factors yet they have the same decline in their king salmon runs. This evidence points to a statewide king problem, which is located within our ocean and not a specific river. When our commercial king salmon by-catch went from a few thousand kings to hundreds of thousands annually by 2000, the alarms and buzzers should have sounded but we heard nothing from our ADF&G until around 2007. This dramatic increase in commercial catch and by-catch efficiency should have been reported at every fisheries meeting back then but not a word was offered by our A’DF&G until it was to late. Approximately 3 – 4 generations of king salmon had been silently killed by 2008 and that means if we fixed the problem today, it will take at least 15 – 20 years to revive these runs naturally.

The bottom line is that we have people with their noses buried so deep into a Kenai River that they cannot see the ocean beyond. It is time to stand back and acknowledge the big picture regarding the statewide nature of our king problem. It is not the time to babble on about how local restrictions are going to somehow save an entire state. It is not river degradations, not excess fishing on spawning beds, not excessive boats, not erosion, not turbidity, not oil pollution, not hook and release fishing and not the killing only the big ones. Increasing angler freshwater restrictions might help this situation a little but they would be like placing a Band-Aid on cancer. The commercial by-catch of king salmon is the cancer and they are only the latest victims of this wasteful fishing. We need a statewide ocean specific prospective to even address this king salmon problem. So put away all your old local sure-fired local solutions because this problem is beyond the Kenai River.