The Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee met Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to hold an election and discuss their proposals to the Board of Fisheries for next year’s meeting on Cook Inlet fishing regulations. Proposals, which can be authored by anyone, must be submitted by April 10.
Elections were relatively quick, though 10 seats were up for election. Each election had only one nominee, and each election was approved by unanimous consent. No nominees were named for the final election, for one of two at large alternates, and the seat was left empty.
For seven of the nine seats filled, the incumbents were renominated and reconfirmed. Paul Shadura, Lisa Gabriel, Monte Roberts, Dick Dykema, Mike Crawford, Scott Miller and Ron Petty will all remain in their positions for the next three years.
Ray DeBardelaben resigned from his sport fishing guide seat, and Scott Daletas, a sport fishing guide alternate, was elected to fill out the remaining year of his term. The sport fishing guide alternate seat left by Daletas was up for election this year, and filled by newcomer Greg Springer.
Springer said he has operated as a guide in Soldotna for around 16 years.
“I care immensely about these fish and want to have a say in the future,” he said ahead of his election on Tuesday.
Springer will join the committee at the start of their next year, on July 1.
After the election, the committee turned their attention to developing their proposals to the Board of Fish to change local fishing regulations at the board’s 2024 meeting on Cook Inlet Area Finfish. Those proposals must be submitted by Monday.
Proposals by the board concerned conservation of king salmon, silver salmon, and addressing the developing industry of guiding in personal use fisheries. All but one proposal considered by the committee was approved unanimously.
The first proposal discussed would implement restrictions on the use of bait in silver salmon fisheries if the king salmon sport fishery and east side setnet fishery remain closed or restricted by July 31. The proposal was intended to increase predictability, the committee said, as the proposed restriction has been implemented in recent years via emergency order by the Department of Fish and Game.
If the proposal is adopted by the board next year, bait would be allowed on one of three dates in the Kenai River silver salmon fishery depending on the status of the king salmon sport fishery and ESSN. If those fisheries are unrestricted on July 31, silver salmon fishing with bait would be allowed on Aug. 1, as is current regulation. If the sport fishery is on catch and release on July 31, bait in the silver salmon fishery would be delayed until Aug. 7 and only allowed in parts of the Kenai River. If the two fisheries are closed on July 31, that bait start would be delayed further to Aug. 15, and a restriction would also be placed on fishing from a moving vessel.
That proposal passed with a vote of 10-2. Dyer VanDevere, who voted in opposition, sits in a commercial driftnetting seat. He said that he wanted to go farther and restrict bait through all of August in an effort to protect spawning king salmon.
The committee included an amendment to the proposal that says that any time bait is restricted, anglers will also be restricted to a single hook.
Another proposal would require all guides in Cook Inlet personal use fisheries to meet the same requirements and registrations that sport fishing guides do. The committee said that the regulations as they stand require no registration or certification for commercial guides in those fisheries, including Kenai River dipnetting.
Silvers in the spotlight
A third proposal would reduce the bag limit for Kenai River silver salmon in September from three fish to two, while also allowing the department to increase the limit in times of abundance via emergency order.
Roberts said he’s concerned about the silver salmon population, and that it’s time to do something about it.
Upper Cook Inlet Area Manager Colton Lipka was present to provide contextual information to the committee as they deliberated on proposals, and said that the department faces difficulty using emergency orders to reduce the silver salmon bag limit because there isn’t in-season data. They have the power, but rarely get the evidence they need to justify. He said that were the proposal implemented it may be easier to raise the number when appropriate because the department is more likely to hear when there’s lots of fish.
Todd Smith, who sits in a commercial fishing setnet seat, said he supported the proposal because it may result in more reporting of silver salmon data if anglers are incentivized by the possibility of increased limits.
The committee also said that the proposal would also improve consistency, because the Kasilof River has a two fish limit.
Chatting about chinook
The fourth proposal approved by the committee would remove all king salmon retention from the Cook Inlet personal use fishery, where previously one per family could be retained. The proposal would allow for emergency order to allow that one fish if the king salmon run is projected to exceed the optimal escapement goal set for the species.
Lipka said that the one king salmon has been prohibited in recent years because of the closures resulting from low king salmon runs, but that it has been an enforcement issue because the personal use license still says one can be harvested.
The committee approved the proposal, saying that the Kenai River is the only dipnet fishery in the state that allows for king retention.
The final proposal approved by the committee would eliminate the use of bait above the Sterling Highway bridge on the Kasilof River to the Tustumena Launch.
“There is no need to be using bait above the bridge,” Smith said.
The committee said that the proposal would protect steelhead and early run Kasilof king salmon.
The committee discussed other ways to protect king salmon in response to low runs, but ultimately didn’t take any further steps. Lipka said that the actions being taken already are the prescription for the problem. The group considered looking at trout as a predator on king salmon fry and smolt, but Lipka said looking at predators hasn’t historically been a successful plan.
The group also considered taking action in regards to motorized vehicles on the Kasilof River, especially in relation to the incoming state-run driftboat retrieval. They decided against making any proposals.
“It’s a social issue,” Chair Crawford said. “It’s not a biological issue.”
Localizing the Cook Inlet conversation
The final order of business taken by the committee was the unanimous decision to write a letter to the Board of Fisheries asking them to hold the Cook Inlet meeting on the Kenai Peninsula, instead of in Anchorage. The Board of Game holds regional meetings in the regions set to be affected.
Shadura said that they’ve tried to convince the Board of Fisheries to meet locally for years, but they haven’t come since 1999. That’s despite concessions and willing collaboration from the cities of Kenai and Soldotna as well as the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Crawford said that he’s heard from the board that they view the Kenai Peninsula as “too fired up,” and lacking in restaurant and hotel options. He said that they’ll need to meet those objections. Members of the committee pointed out that last month’s Board of Game meeting, held in Soldotna, was entirely peaceful despite opposing viewpoints on issues like trapping.
“I hardly think this community is that violent,” Shadura said. “We’ve got the facilities, and we’ve got the transportation.”
For more information about advisory committees and the Boards of Fisheries and Game, visit adfg.alaska.gov.
This story was edited on April 6 to correct the title of Upper Cook Inlet Area Manager Colton Lipka and to include details on dissenting votes related to the first proposal discussed by the committee.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at email@example.com.