Setnetters make their way back to the beach near a site on July 11, 2016 near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Setnetters make their way back to the beach near a site on July 11, 2016 near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Setnetters ask Fish and Game to clarify commercial king harvest

With low king salmon counts in the Kenai River and restrictions tightened on most fisheries in the area, scrutiny is tightening on the commercial set gillnet fishery still harvesting kings.

Setnetters on the east side of Cook Inlet are allowed by their permits to harvest kings, but with the inriver sportfishery restricted to catch-and-release only and the personal-use dipnet fishery prohibited from harvesting kings, sportfishermen have expressed frustration that the setnetters are still allowed to fish and harvest kings. The Kenai River Professional Guide Association has repeatedly called for setnetting closures to allow more king salmon to enter the river, objecting to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issuing emergency orders to open them.

As of Friday, 4,878 large king salmon had passed Fish and Game’s sonar on the Kenai River. In 2017, Fish and Game converted to counting only king salmon larger than 75 centimeters from mid-eye to tail fork toward escapement and excluding smaller king salmon. When the Board of Fisheries approved the new counting goal in 2017, the escapement number was adjusted down to reflect that not all kings would be counted anymore.

The official numbers for the commercial east side setnet fishery state that fishermen have harvested 1,428 king salmon as of July 14. However, only about 148–192 of those are Kenai River large kings, according to estimates from Fish and Game provided to the Clarion. More accurate analysis will be available post-season when a genetic analysis is done.

Setnetters want to make sure everyone knows the difference. On Monday, the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association — a Soldotna-based nonprofit representing east side setnetters — issued a press release July 16 saying the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is spreading an incorrect number about the king salmon harvest.

The press release specifically identified two news reports in which Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said setnetters had harvested 1,700 king salmon as of July 13. In a July 13 public letter to Gov. Bill Walker, Kenai River Sportfishing Association Chairman Bill Eckhardt wrote that commercial fishermen had harvested 1,700 kings and setnetters had harvested “more than 1- times the number of large-size king salmon than have sport anglers.”

That number isn’t accurate, the group said in its release.

“Mr. Gease’s statements are false, worse such disregard for the truth only fuels the ongoing Cook Inlet fish wars at a time when all user groups should be seeking solutions to provide prudent and equitable access, while maintaining healthy salmon stocks,” the release states. “KPFA supports the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s science-based management rather than the attack-dog, community-dividing actions that have become the hallmark of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.”

The group asked Fish and Game to publicly release the number of large king salmon caught in setnets. Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association President Andy Hall said the confusion between the total harvest and the number of large king salmon was one of the setnetters’ concerns when Fish and Game transitioned to the large-king goal.

When Fish and Game restricted the Kenai River sportfishery to catch-and-release only for kings, the setnet fishery felt the impact too — they can only fish for 24 hours maximum per week if the sportfishery is restricted to catch-and-release, per the management plan.

Most of the kings caught in the setnet harvest have been smaller kings, less than 34 inches, which is part of why the Kenai River Sportfishing Association supported the transition to the large-king goal, Gease said — they want to see more large kings in the escapement, supporting more eggs and possibly genetics for larger fish.

Gease said the Kenai River Sportfishing Association supported Fish and Game’s decision to restrict the harvest of kings to help boost escapement. As of July 13, projections show the Kenai River run won’t meet the minimum escapement without harvest restrictions.

“Hopefully the numbers will slide back up — maybe they will, maybe they won’t,” Gease said.

Setnetters in the Kasilof section and North Kalifornsky Beach fished Saturday with nets within 600 feet of the mean high tide mark, targeting primarily Kasilof River-bound sockeye, and Fish and Game announced another 12-hour opener Sunday in the Kasilof Section within 60 feet of the mean high tide mark.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

"The Bouyman" participated in the 2021 Fourth of July "Whatever Floats Your Boat" Parade down Pioneer Avenue. (Photo by Sarah Knapp)
July 4 events held around the bay

Weekend in Anchor Point, Homer and Seldovia features parades, games and barbecues

Central Peninsula Hospital is photographed on Oct. 19, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion file)
College of Health building renovation aims to increase number of grads, address worker shortage

Health care expert says building is one of many steps needed to address shortage

KPBSD Summer Work Program Coordinator Olivia Orth welcomes guests to a program celebration in the Soldotna High School Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Summer Work Program students celebrated

The program places current KPBSD students with disabilities in local businesses

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark replaced the USCGC Liberty as the cutter for Sector Juneau earlier in June, stationed at Don D. Statter Harbor. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Reef Shark replaces Coast Guard Cutter Liberty in Juneau

The new cutter has big boots to fill, but brings the enthusiasm to do it

Kim Kovol will be the acting commissioner for the new Alaska Department of Family and Community Services which debuts Friday. (Courtesy Photo)
New state department gets new commissioner

Kim Kovol, a longtime social services worker, will head the Department of Family and Community Services

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading "Vot No Con Con," during a Saturday rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Opposition to a constitutional convention, which could alter the Alaska State Constitution to allow for banning abortions was a frequent topic during the protest. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Constitutional convention ballot question in November becomes focus in Alaska’s abortion fight

Abortion rights supporters urge ‘no’ votes on question, while abortion opponents seek changes to constitution

Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, arrives to testify as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Aide: Trump dismissed Jan. 6 threats, wanted to join crowd

Cassidy Hutchinson, a little-known former White House aide, described an angry, defiant president that day

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs Alaska’s fiscal year 2023 operating and capital budgets into law on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office)
Dunleavy signs budget

$3,200 in payments to Alaskans, money for local projects included

Most Read