Decision to liberalize early run draws criticism
Dear Alaska Department of Fish and Game,
I’d like to tell you, in full transparency, how utterly disappointed I am today, as is the vast majority of this community.
After nearly thirty years of being heavily involved in fishery politics, I thought I’d seen it all. But, once again, the department never ceases to amaze me with their choices and actions.
Your recent decision to liberalize the Kenai River early run king salmon sport fishery is nothing short of reckless and irresponsible. And even worse, it smacks of blatant arrogance from upper management that seem to have a clear, “Oh yeah, well watch this!” attitude with our fish!
Yes, I said, “our” fish! Let that sink in!
While managers confidently sit behind their desks (and somehow sleep well at night), justifying their actions by “spinning” things such as the new “big fish” numbers, adjusted goals, projections, and lower vs. upper end escapement goals — claiming that the management plan “calls for this action” — here is the bottom line:
You knew the intent of the Board of Fish this winter with their adoption of the land-mark decision to limit the harvest of early run Kenai kings to under 36 inches. And if somehow you didn’t know what the intent was, I’ll remind you here: It was to provide protection, to put more fish — and bigger fish — on the spawning beds during this early run, thereby not only allowing this fishery to rebound, but to ensure long-term sustainability with fish for the future. In sum, it was to be conservative with our fish!
And before you claim that “your hands were tied” by regulation, let me also remind you that you have the power, the flexibility and the wiggle-room to cautiously wait for more information or better yet, just opt for “no action” in the name of being conservative with a fishery.
Because sport fishermen have hit rock bottom with our kings and the general public badly wants you to manage conservatively. We certainly weren’t screaming for this!
That’s what might be most frustrating about your decision to liberalize — what you obviously don’t care to take into consideration is that we were actually “turning a corner” here with a new mindset and a culture of conservation on this fishery, whereas people were actually “putting the fish first” as a priority over their personal desires.
Of all the anglers on the river, both guided and non-guided, as well as local small businesses (charters, sporting goods, restaurants and grocery stores) and non-fisher people in town, both local and visitors, my friends and I never once heard a single complaint about “what we had” this spring or summer in regard to our new conservative regulations. Anglers were catching a few fish each day, some nice ones too, and letting them go with smiles on their face. People were talking about our early run in a positive light, with an air of hope in their voice.
Over and over I heard positive comments like “It’s pretty good fishing!” and “This is fun!” and “At least we now have a fishery!” and “Maybe we can claw our way out of this mess after all!”
Never once did I hear anyone say, “I wish we could kill more fish!”
Perhaps you had one or two short-sighted people calling for liberalizations to this fishery, but I can assure you that they were a very vocal minority. No doubt, collectively, this community did not want to kill more kings!
We all know that counting fish is not a perfect art. The present escapement goals, lower than ever, are considered questionable by many, whereas very little margin for error is provided. The new “big fish” approach to counting fish is still unproven, as is the relatively new sonar location and the adjustment to counting that came with that move. And we have yet to see the true results of a three-year closure on all Kenai River early run king salmon sport fishing. With all of this taken into account, managing our king salmon fisheries on a razor’s edge right now is nothing short of gambling with our fish.
By choosing to “roll the dice” by allowing increased harvest on this early run Kenai king sport fishery — especially on our bigger fish — the department is showing a blatant disregard for a fishery that is in the infant stages of rebounding. Equally disturbing is that our managers are also ignoring what the Board and the general public wants in regard to long-term goals.
Quite frankly, that’s sad … and down-right wrong. I for one will continue to put the fish first, by releasing every Kenai king caught by myself, my family and my clients, focusing my harvest on species of abundance like sockeye.
It’s the right thing to do — even if the department sees it differently!
Passionately and sincerely,
Wild king salmon conservationist and Kenai River guide