SEE ALSO Medred here: https://craigmedred.news/2017/08/03/mat-su-coho-struggle/
Mat-Su Anglers Corner for Friday August 4, 2017 Frontiersman By Andy Couch
Mismanagement Jeopardizes Cook Inlet Coho Escapements and User Opportunities
On July 30 Pat Shields, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commercial Fisheries Manager for Upper Cook Inlet issued an emergency order to open commercial drift gill netting in all waters of the Central District (including the entire Conservation Corridor) for 12 hours on July 31, 2017. Results of that one day of fishing were a drift harvest of 39,279 coho but only 31,606 sockeye.
While the Central District Drift Fishery Management Plan gives the manager flexibility to fish one period throughout the entire Central District between July 16 -31 when the Kenai River sockeye salmon run falls between 2.3 million and 4.6 million sockeye salmon —
“The purpose of the plan is to ensure adequate escapement of salmon into the Northern District Drainages and to provide management guidelines to the department. The department shall manage the commercial drift gill net fishery to minimize the harvest of Northern District and Kenai River coho salmon in order to provide sport and guided sport fishermen a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon stocks over the entire run, as measured by the frequency of in river restrictions.” from 5AAC 21.353.
The manager/ commissioner / department therefore under the plan, shoulder the responsibility for passing adequate escapements of Northern District salmon to provide reasonable sport and fishing opportunities in the Northern District drainages in addition to spawning escapement needs. This is a responsibility that the manager / commissioner / department —for the most part— seem to be ignoring. Consider the department’s justification for providing district-wide drift fishing on July 31, — the Kenai River sockeye escapement goal is “expected” to be met and the Kasilof goal has been met. No mention whatsoever of Northern Cook Inlet coho salmon goal levels or their expected impacts. No mention whatsoever of the Department’s past history of failing to achieve coho salmon escapement goals at Little Susitna River and Jim Creek, and the resulting past restrictions and closures to both spot fisheries. No mention of past restrictions and closures of the Northern District set net fishery caused by excess drift harvests of Northern District salmon stocks in the Conservation Corridor.
ADF&G’s Best Available Data
For the record, I e-mailed Manager Shields and Commissioner Cotten to mention some of the Department’s lowest Upper Cook Inlet coho salmon escapements on record on July 28, but have not even been acknowledged with a response. Poor sport coho salmon harvests and late / poor Mat-Su coho escapements continue through August 1 — with only 593 coho salmon through Little Susitna River weir, 227 coho through Deshka weir, 25 coho through Fish Creek weir, and 7 coho through Jim Creek weir. The 2017 Little Susitna River Public Use Facility sport fish exit survey had only recorded a total harvest of 269 coho salmon for the year as of 10 am on August 2.
Sport Restrictions Looming
I talked with ADF&G Northern Cook Inlet Sport Fish Management biologist, Sam Ivey, on Tuesday and asked if the Little Susitna River coho salmon sport fishery would open to bait on August 6, 2017 as scheduled? HIs response was that the department now needed coho salmon escapement levels of 500 fish per day through Friday in order to responsibly allow the bait fishery. It may not open. If so, an emergency order should be issued on Friday August 4.
If sockeye salmon spawning escapement levels do not increase soon the Larson Creek sockeye fishery may be closed, according to Sam Ivey.
Will the Deshka River coho salmon sport fishery be restricted or closed on the first year after ADF&G adopted a coho salmon escapement goal for this system?
Last year (2016) the Department granted maximum plus amount of drift gill net fishing in the Conservation Corridor allowed by the management plan, and then closed bait fishing for coho salmon on the Little Susitna River, before it even opened on August 6. The manager failed to allow adequate salmon through to even achieve the Little Su escapement goal — let alone provide a reasonable sport fishery harvest opportunity. Jim Creek was closed inseason to sport salmon fishing and the manager was not even close to achieving the associated McRoberts Creek coho salmon escapement goal.
Rather than learning from these mistakes the manager / commissioner / department are erring on the side of failed goals and closed or restricted sport opportunity — again. NOTHING IN THE MANAGEMENT PLAN REQUIRES DRIFT GILLNETTING in the Conservation Corridor AT ANY TIME. The Board of Fisheries has provided the department with a plethora of other harvest options that better conserve Northern salmon stocks and harvest opportunities of Northern Cook Inlet user groups. These options should be used first in any effort to harvest surplus Kasilof and Keani River sockeye salmon. At this point the department is only talking about Kasilof and Kenai River sockeye salmon escapements that achieve desired escapement levels — therefore since there is no emergency that requires harvesting Northern salmon stocks in the Conservation Corridor— Northern escapement needs and harvest opportunities for the greatest number of Alaskans should take priority.
Newsflash: Despite the high coho harvest on July 31 and no need to fish areawide, the department scheduled more drift gill netting for the entire Central District on August 3. The Manager and Commissioner seem oblivious to any Northern Cook Inlet escapement or harvest opportunity needs. Since there seems no other option, it is only fair to ask, will Governor Walker take any action to rectify such irresponsible management? What will our Mat-Su legislators do? If you are concerned about sustainable Mat-Su salmon populations and salmon fishing opportunities, what will you do?
Voice your concerns by visiting this website: http://fight4fish.com and send your message to individuals responsible for Upper Cook Inlet salmon management. Let those in charge know — Current Management is Unacceptable.
Andy Couch is a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee and Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. The views presented in this column are his own.