Deja vu in king salmon fishery

Well, our fearless leaders have done it again! It’s like deja vu all over again!

Similar to last year, the managers of our sport fisheries have totally flipped on their position, thrown caution to the wind, bowed to politics and disregarded conservation of our genetically unique wild chinook for future generations.

As of July 1, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will suddenly open the lower Kenai River to single hook, no bait king salmon fishing — with retention allowed!

So, let me get this straight: for the past two months, just like last year, this community has shouldered the burden of a completely closed sport fishery. No king salmon fishing has been allowed all spring and summer on the Kenai River up to this point, not even catch-and-release. In their actions, ADF&G has, in so many words, stated, “Our river is in such dire straights that we can’t afford to potentially kill one single king salmon, so anglers can’t even wet a line and possibly catch and release a single chinook salmon.”

But, like magic, with a flip of a calendar page, everything is OK. Suddenly we have more salmon than we need, so green light-go, harvest away! Doesn’t that feel kinda funny to you? Is our late run any healthier than our early run? And where exactly are those early run kings we so fiercely protected? Aren’t some of them main stream spawners?

As a small business owner with 25 years of full-time guiding behind me, could I sell some king salmon charters and make a few bucks off this sudden liberalization to our in-river fishery? Of course I could, but as my dad used to tell me, if it feels wrong, son — it probably is!

And it’s not just me out here in left field that has heartburn over ADF&G being so reckless; here’s what another conservation-minded sport angler wrote me today: “I’ve been trying to shout this point to the rooftops for the last few years now … catch-and-release is an extremely effective and efficient management strategy for stocks of concern (like Kenai kings). It both allows opportunity for sport anglers to tangle with one of these special creatures as well as allows for recovery due to insignificant harvest …Win-win!

“Single hook plus no bait equals extremely low catch-and-release mortality. We can keep the local economy going, reduce in-river harvest to virtually zero, and hopefully have a fully recovered king salmon fishery sometime down the road — once again, win-win!

“Opening to full harvest is ridiculous!

“ADF&G doesn’t tend to utilize catch-and-release as a management tool very often, and that needs to change pronto.”

And so the questions to ADF&G remain: Why have we protected these fish so rigorously the past few months? Why not start our sport fishery off conservatively easing into it with a yellow-light, cautionary approach such as catch-and-release, at least until we believe that we will make our escapement goal and provide for sustainability? Why allow harvest before we ever know if we will meet our goals and have a harvestable surplus?

Phone ADF&G. Call them out, demanding good, honest answers! And while you are at it, write your Governor as well as the Commissioner of Fish and Game.

These people work for us and these are our native fish. The Kenai River is our resource, and it’s our children’s future they are being reckless with! Rhetorical question number 567, isn’t it time to step up and demand some accountability from our managers?