Plan only postpones king salmon problems

The State Board of Fisheries recently approved a plan through which it attempts to remedy the disastrous crash of king salmon in the Kenai River. The plan, in part, calls for closure of king fishing in the river for the months of May and June. Though I have yet to see regulations, I presume this means that fishing for the kings will resume on July 1.

This closure is a good start but, by itself, is a futile exercise. Why? Because it only postpones the inevitable. Fish that accumulate in the spawning beds over May and June will quickly be caught in a few days following the river opening on July 1 as the 400-plus guides and their clients, as well as other sports fishermen, resume their fishing.

Blame for this fish disaster seems to be cast everywhere but at the major cause. The real problem is excessive sports fishing in the spawning beds. Most kings, including the June run, that enter the river in early summer don’t spawn until August or later, spending the first month or two preparing and defending their spawning areas. If fishing is allowed for the month of July, which seems to be the plan, there will be few, if any, kings that survive to complete the spawning cycle in August.

In a March 12 letter to the Peninsula Clarion, fishing guide Bruce Ewitt stated that he and his clients regularly caught “150 to 200 kings a year” and that “2009 was the last good year.” He went on to say that he only caught 9 fish in 2013.

Consider this, if there are 400 guides (there were probably more) before 2009 on the river who, over the years, were not as successful as Ewitt but boated, say, 50 kings each per year, this would compute to 20,000 kings per year that would never spawn. This is not counting those caught by unguided fishermen.

At the same, time, the ADFG’s planned escapement goal has been between 20,000 and 30,000 fish per year. The count is compiled in the lower river below the spawning holes where fishing is done. This would indicate that the great majority of fish deemed “escapement” will be killed before they can successfully spawn. I believe these numbers are conservative. If so, should we continue to wonder where our magnificent kings have gone?

The ADFG needs to place a finite limit on the number of kings taken from the river by all fishermen. This number should be only a small percentage of overall escapement. Only then will we begin, in my opinion, to see a positive change in king salmon numbers.