Members of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee raise hands to vote in favor of a proposal during a meeting at Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee raise hands to vote in favor of a proposal during a meeting at Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Advisory committee supports protections for lake trout and king salmon

Advisory committee recommendations will be weighed by the State Board of Fisheries alongside public testimony as they deliberate on each proposal

In the third meeting of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee to discuss proposals to the State Board of Fisheries that seek changes to Upper Cook Inlet fishing regulations, the group tackled proposals targeting personal use fisheries in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers, trout fishing in Hidden Lake, and limits for king salmon.

The committee, which is composed of local anglers and hunters representing a variety of different user groups, is among many such panels based in different regions in the state. As part of the State Department of Fish and Game’s board cycle, they have been meeting to set their position on the many proposals that will be presented to the board at the Upper Cook Inlet meeting scheduled for February.

Advisory committee recommendations will be weighed by the board alongside public testimony as they deliberate on each proposal.

A proposal by committee Secretary Will Lee that seeks to prohibit the use of bait and multiple hooks in Hidden Lake saw support from the committee. Lee said he wanted the proposal to protect lake trout in the area, which see little harvest because of a regulation passed in the 2010s that prohibited retention of fish greater than 16 inches in length, but are caught and released for sport.

“If we’re not retaining, why do we need bait?” Lee asked.

Some members of the group, including Dick Dykema, expressed concern for possible impact to other fisheries operating in the lake, but the proposal was supported with 11 in favor, two against and one abstention.

The group discussed and supported one proposal that targeted the Northern District of Cook Inlet toward Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna region, penned by James Allen. It would seek to close the commercial “king salmon directed fisheries” in that area.

Scott Daletas, who voted in favor, said that at a time when conservation of king salmon “is everything” he doesn’t like the idea that a commercial king salmon season could exist at the uppermost areas of Cook Inlet, “at the end of the tube.”

Todd Smith, who voted against the proposal, says he doesn’t like seeing opportunity written out of regulation, when emergency orders have successfully been closing the fisheries. He said that the fish stocks are “healthier” when more user groups are invested in their success.

The committee supported another proposal by Allen that would reduce the maximum allowed mesh size of a set gillnet in Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use fisheries after amending it to be less restrictive. Allen’s goal, as written in the proposal, is to reduce catch of king salmon while increasing “catch bias” toward sockeye salmon.

As written, Allen sought to see the maximum mesh — the size of each opening in the net — reduced from 6 inches to 4.75 inches. The group unanimously supported the proposal after including an amendment by Smith that would make the new maximum size 5 inches.

Smith said that 6 inches is “huge,” and that it was unlikely many such nets were still in use — Kasilof fish would likely swim right through. Van Devere didn’t like the idea that people would have to buy new gear to comply with the updated regulation.

The group ultimately supported the amended proposal in continued effort to conserve king salmon.

Another proposal by Lee seeks to prohibit personal use dipnet fishing from an anchored vessel on the Kenai River. The issue, Lee said, is anglers anchoring and waiting for the tide to come in — still dipnetting — and ultimately causing a navigational struggle as channels are “almost entirely” obstructed by up to five boats anchoring next to each other.

The group supported the proposal nearly unanimously, but spoke at length about potential impact to commercial drift gillnet boats, which also anchor and wait for the tide while fishing, but in another area. As written, the proposal would stop them from using a dipnet to take a sockeye salmon in the personal use fishery for food while anchored and waiting for the tide — something Dyer Van Devere, who voted in opposition, says he has done.

Some members of the group said they supported the proposal in trying to solve the issue of travel, but don’t seek to see opportunity taken away from Alaska residents who otherwise would have been able to do that fishing without impacting others.

A proposal by the Department of Fish and Game that would clean up alignment of certain regulation dates in the Kenai River Drainage Area methods and means provisions saw unanimous support.

The group was widely split by, but ultimately voted against supporting, a proposal that would reduce the annual limit of retention of king salmon from two to one under and one over 34 inches.

The group talked at length about what the change would mean for the sport fishery and for conservation of the stock. Lee said that the change might just be “lowering the bar” and negatively impacting king conservation, Andrew Carmichael said that he likes the idea of going for one large and one small fish.

Carmichael also said that such a scenario wouldn’t happen anytime soon because of the concerns surrounding the king salmon run size.

“Maybe we’ll have a great run in our lifetimes again,” Chair Mike Crawford said.

The group voted eight against and six in favor. Crawford said they could take a second look at it when the department releases their official comments on each proposal, which may include data on the actual impact of such a change.

The committee more concretely opposed proposals that sought to allow Alaska residents to buy two permits and fish additional gear on the Kenai River, require checks by the Department of Fish and Game on fishing derbies, changes to Kenai River personal use dipnet annual limits, dipnet closures paired to commercial fishery closures, Kenai River dipnet Dolly Varden retention, change the regulatory boundaries of the Kasilof River mouth, prohibit king salmon fishing from a power boat on the Kenai River on Wednesdays and Fridays and end catch and release for king salmon on the Kenai River.

The committee is still holding off on discussing the many proposals centering on the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan — which earlier this year prompted the full season closures of several fisheries —while waiting for an action plan that the department is compiling after the stock was named a “stock of management concern” by the board in October.

The committee will meet for its fourth meeting on Board of Fisheries proposals on Monday, Dec. 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association on Kalifornsky Beach Road. Meetings are open to the public and public comment is encouraged by the committee.

For more information about the committee or the boards process, visit adfg.alaska.gov and look under “Regulations.”

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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