Mat-Su Coho Woes Intensify
Portion of Northern District Commercial Gillnet Fishery Closed.
On Wednesday August 17, 2016 in a belated effort to attain the Little Susitna River coho salmon spawning escapement goal the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued news release #34 announcing the closure of of set gillnetting in that portion of the General Subdistrict of the Northern District east of the Susitna River (including Fire Island). Remember that the Department earlier closed the Little Susitna River sport fishery to bait fishing back on August 6, 2016.
According to the Department’s new release #34, “. . . a reduction in the commercial harvest of this stock is warranted in order to ensure the SEG is achieved.” One has to wonder, however, how much reduction in commercial coho harvest will occur this late in the season from this limited portion of the Northern Distirct, especially considering that during the last 4 commercial periods on August 15, 11, 8, and 4 the Department website only lists participation as 3 deliveries with a total of 202 coho salmon harvested from Fire Island on August 15. If the Department were really serious about reducing commercial harvest of Northern District or Little Susitna River bound coho salmon, a more encompassing harvest reduction including closing of drift gillnet salmon harvest in Area 3 and or reducing coho harvest in a larger portion of the Northern District may be in order.
With a salmon stock (Northern Cook Inlet Coho) specified to be managed primarily for sport and guide sport uses one has to wonder why one of the most important Northern sport fisheries has to be emergency closed to bait fishing for 11 days before even a small restriction or closure occurs in a commercial fishery.
Jim Creek Sport Salmon Fishery Closed
On Thursday August 18, 2016 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) announced through emergency order # 2—SS—2—40–16 that the popular JIm Creek sport salmon fishery would close to all salmon fishing starting Saturday August 20, 2016. This make the second year in a row that the Department has closed a Jim Creek sport fishery in an effort to attain the McRoberts Creek (Jim Creek tributary) coho salmon spawning escapement goal.
The past couple weeks I had made a mistake stating the Department had failed to attain the McRoberts Creek goal in 2015 — As corrected by ADF&G’s Tom Vania, the Department closed the Jim Creek drainage to salmon fishing on August 31, last year, and ended up attaining the McRoberts Creek goal with an index count of 571 coho, which falls within the goal range of 450 — 1,400 coho salmon. Additionally, the portion of the Jim Creek escapement that was low in 2015 was the count for Upper Jim Creek (374 coho) where ADF&G acknowledged the count was bellow average — but no active coho salmon escapement goal has been established for this important spawning area by the Department.
The Jim Creek coho salmon fishery, like the Little Susitna River fishery, has a history of being one of the heaviest participation sport fisheries in the Northern Cook Inlet. When commercial harvests of coho salmon from these popular fisheries occur earlier than significant sport harvests within these fisheries. why do ADF&G commercial managers wait until AFTER sport closures to address the same emergency situations in the earlier occurring commercial fisheries?
Relative Importance of Coho Harvest to Upper Cook Inlet Commercial and Northern Cook Inle tSport Fisheries
According to the latest numbers posted on the ADF&G website on August 18, 2016 the Upper Cook Inlet commercial harvest of all salmon is over 3 million fish. The commercial coho harvest is only 124,500 fish of this total. Contrast that with the thought that most salmon harvested in the Northern Cook Inlet sport fisheries most years are coho salmon. Something needs to be done to adjust current management practices so that more Alaskans and Alaska visitors have resonable access to the Northern Cook Inlet coho salmon public resource.
Andy Couch is a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee and the Matanuska Susitna Borough FIsh and Wildlife Commission, and is a Mat-Su Valley salmon fishing guide