To Area Commercial Fisheries Management Biologist Pat Shields, Director of Sport Fisheries Tom Brookover, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commissioner Sam Cotton, and Concerned Alaskans,
In response to ADF&G’s July 28, 2017 Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon assessment of a Kenai sockeye run size that may now exceed 2.3 million fish, I urge the Department to continue the course of responsible drift gillnet fishery management for ALL Upper Cook Inlet salmon stocks. The stock assessment news release mentions several different options for managing the drift gill net fishery on July 31, in response to this very late July Kenai sockeye salmon assessment — including the option to fish all waters of the Central District.
Fishing the drift fleet in all waters of the Central District would harvest a maximum number of Kenai bound sockeye salmon, but at the same time it would also exploit maximum numbers of Northern Cook Inlet bound coho and sockeye salmon as well. Therefore Department measured escapements of Northern coho and sockeye salmon should also be considered, and the decision should be made that best ensures attainment of ALL Upper Cook Inlet salmon escapement goal levels, while providing reasonable salmon harvest opportunities for ALL Upper Cook Inlet user groups.
Consider that the Board of Fisheries has declared Susitna sockeye salmon a Stock of Concern, and that Northern Cook Inlet set netters have been restricted by ADF&G emergency order in an effort to achieve adequate sockeye spawning escapement numbers. Achieving minimum escapement levels of this stock and providing a reasonable harvest opportunity for Northern set netters should not be jeopardized by unnecessary drift gill netting in the Upper Cook Inlet Conservation Corridor.
Also consider that ADF&G measured escapements of Northern Cook Inlet coho salmon stocks (posted on the department’s website) through July 27 show some of the lowest coho escapements on record for this date: 123 coho through Little Susitna weir, 72 coho through Deshka weir, 12 coho through Fish Creek weir, and 0 coho through Jim Creek weir. Further in a conversation I had July 25 with ADF&G Northern Management Area Sportfish Management Biologist, Sam Ivey, he did not know of even one Mat-Su Valley coho salmon sport fishery that was providing a good coho salmon harvest opportunity.
The department’s measured escapement levels of Northern coho salmon stocks combined with extremely poor sportfishing catches strongly indicate the department could soon be issuing an emergency order(s) to further restrict or even close some of the most important Mat-Su Valley coho salmon sport fisheries. Poor coho escapements should not be exacerbated by unnecessary drift gill netting in the Upper Cook Inlet Conservation Corridor.
Remember the primary purpose of the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Management Plan, identified in the first sentence: “The purpose of this management plan is to ensure adequate escapement of salmon into the Northern District drainages, and to provide management guidelines to the department.”
While the Plan gives ADF&G great management flexibility, nothing in the plan requires drift gill netting, at any time, in the Conservation Corridor. Therefore, in response to department documented conservation concern for Susitna sockeye salmon, and in response to department documented poor Northern coho salmon escapements, and poor Northern coho salmon harvest sport fishing opportunity, and finally in recognition of the Plan’s stated purpose, I respectfully request the department continue the course of providing adequate passage of Northern bound salmon stocks, which like Kenai sockeye salmon. may also be experiencing later run timing during 2017.
As identified in the Department’s sockeye salmon assessment, there are numerous management solutions including an abundance of emergency hours, fishing a plethora of inshore areas, and providing reasonable harvest opportunity for other user groups (and especially in a year of lower abundance) to adequately harvest surplus Kenai sockeye salmon. Please pursue all other options before allowing drift gill netting in the entire Central District. Please respect the Conservation Corridor — and especially that portion above Kalgan Island.
Your response would be much appreciated.
Andrew N. Couch
Northern Cook Inlet sport fishing business owner