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)

Silver salmon, personal use fishing discussed by advisory committee

The group set their recommendations on a variety of proposals to the State Board of Fisheries

At a meeting of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee on Monday, the group set their recommendations on a variety of proposals to the State Board of Fisheries that would affect fishing regulations on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers.

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’ll be meeting over the coming weeks and months 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.

This was the second meeting of the committee to discuss proposals. Last week they considered several proposals targeting regulations for Lower Cook Inlet, ahead of another board meeting on that region that took place this week in Homer.

Kings and silvers

The committee put their support behind several proposals that target the Kenai River Coho Salmon Management Plan for the purposes of protecting king salmon and silver salmon. Many of the proposals discussed by the group were their own, authored and submitted during their April meeting.

The first proposal penned by the committee and considered Monday would implement tiers of restrictions on the use of bait in the August Kenai River coho salmon fishery based on the state of the king salmon fishery at the end of July 31. It says that if king salmon fishing is open with retention, then the use of bait will be permitted on Aug. 1. Restrictions will be placed on bait if king salmon is open only to catch and release or closed.

Chair Mike Crawford said that a lot of the language in the proposal is what has been implemented by the department via emergency order in recent years — “this puts structure to it.”

Andrew Carmichael said that one of the provisions in the proposal, that would limit anglers to anchored boats or fishing from shore in conditions where king fishing is on catch and release or closed, “is the key” to the proposal meeting its intention and protecting kings. The group pointed to the moving hooks by backtrolling vessels as the ones that are catching kings at that time of the season.

The proposal was supported unanimously with an amendment that changes its described downstream boundary to the mouth of the Kenai River instead of the Warren Ames Bridge and also says they want to see the proposal integrated into the Kenai River Late-run King Salmon Management Plan.

Also unanimously supported was a proposal that would reduce the limit for coho salmon after Sept. 1 from three to two fish. The group said that anecdotally, they think more people are fishing for coho in September than have in the past, driven in part by restrictions this year that ran through the end of August. The proposal, they said, represents a preemptive move to protect the stock.

Personal use fisheries

Requiring Cook Inlet personal use fishing guides to adhere to the same requirements as sport fishing guides was the focus of another proposal written by the committee and unanimously supported. The group said that guides in the personal use fisheries should be allowed, but should be held to the same standard, requiring licenses, insurance and registration.

Unanimously, the committee supported prohibiting the retention of king salmon in the Kenai River personal use fishery. Existing regulation says that one king salmon can be taken per household, though the department removes that one via emergency order every year. The group said this proposal would make that zero retention the default, with room to liberalize the one back if the outlook for king salmon changes significantly.

The group supported a proposal authored by member Todd Smith that seeks to limit emergency order authority to extension of only the shore-based personal use dipnet fishery on the Kenai River. He pointed to this summer’s liberalization of the fishery to run 24 hours a day — “nothing good happens out there in the middle of the night” — and wrote that there are safety, noise and enforcement reasons to limit the hours of operation. The proposal would still allow for that 24-hours-a-day opportunity for dipnetters operating from the shore in times of abundance, just not from boats. The group voted 11 in favor and one abstention.

The final proposal considered and supported would close the Kasilof River personal use gillnet fishery when sport fisheries on the Kenai or Kasilof Rivers are closed. Smith, who voted against supporting the proposal, said he didn’t see significant difference between the fishery targeted by the proposal and the nearby Kasilof River dipnet fishery.

Information provided to the group by Upper Cook Inlet Area Manager Colton Lipka to provide context for the discussion showed that a historical average of nearly 200 king salmon per year had been caught in the fishery, though that count had declined in recent years. Roberts, who voted in support of the proposal, said “every fish does matter.”

Additional topics

The final of the committee’s authored proposals would implement a restriction of only unbaited, single-hook artificial lures on the Kasilof River from the Tustumena boat launch to the Sterling Highway Bridge. That proposal saw support from 11 members, with Carmichael voting in opposition.

Several proposals made by the department saw support from the committee. The first would allow the department to increase the bag limit for Russian River sockeye if the escapement goal is projected to be achieved, instead of exceeded per existing regulation. Others would update regulations describing stocked lakes of the Kenai Peninsula and locations of markers on the Kasilof River.

A proposal that would remove a restriction on back trolling in a 1-mile space of the Kenai River was supported with 11 in favor and one abstention.

Opposed by the committee were proposals that would add drift boat days or make the Kenai River drift only. They also opposed a proposal that would limit parts of the Kenai River to only one unbaited, single-hook artificial fly and another that would limit Kenai River sport fishing to residents only.

The group opposed a proposal that would change the definition of bag limit on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers so that fish caught would count toward the limit of a person who lands a fish instead of the person who hooked it.

Looking forward

The group is delaying conversation on proposals that target the Kenai River Late-run King Salmon Management Plan because of uncertainty surrounding an action plan being compiled by the department for late-run Kenai River kings, which were named by the Board of Fisheries as a stock of management concern in October. The as-yet unpublished plan is cited in several proposals to the board.

Lipka spoke to members about the plan and explained that the board will use it to decide how they want to approach the stock. He encouraged the group to discuss proposals that may be impacted by that plan on their own merits and take them seriously, as they may be considered by the board in addition to the action plan.

Crawford said the committee hopes to wait on those proposals until the plan is published and can be considered in deliberations.

The committee will meet again next week, on Monday, Dec. 4, 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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