By Paul Dale
Considerable controversy and misinformation has developed regarding escapement goal measures for late run Kenai River king salmon. Numerical restatement of the sustainable escapement goal was established by Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff and peer reviewed. It was introduced to the public at an Upper Cook Inlet Task Force meeting, and then adopted by the Board of Fisheries with a unanimous vote to make no changes to the late run king salmon management plan for 2013.
The board chose to leave the department sufficient flexibility and authority to manage the commercial, subsistence, sport and personal-use fisheries with their existing plans. In March 2014, the board will be conducting its triennial review of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, which encompasses all aspects of management, including allocations.
Claims of Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster’s role in reckless reduction of escapement goals have no basis in fact or science. The numerical restatement from a lower end of 17,800 to 15,000 and an upper end from 35,700 to 30,000 is reflective of Fish and Game’s change to newer, more-accurate DIDSON sonar fish-counting devices. These new sonars replaced traditional, less-effective split-beam sonars that did not cover the depth and width of the river as well as the new equipment. There is widespread agreement that the previous sonar was significantly undercounting fish passages, complicating in-season management.
After last year’s disastrous season, the final escapement count was 27,710 fish — 12,710 kings over the newly revised escapement goal. Of a total run of 28,550 kings, set-netters took only 484 fish, or 1.6 percent of the run. Despite the hue and cry for drastic conservation measures regarding Kenai kings, it is noteworthy that the escapement goal for kings has been met in every one of the past 25 years, and exceeded the upper end in 17 of those years.
The task force did not agree on any specific plans for different management of kings for 2014. That should come as no surprise to anyone, nor be considered an indictment of the process. Kevin Delaney, KRSA’s paid consultant, and a task force member was quoted, “You know, I think I’ve been doing this since 1976. Today was the most interactive, productive discussion I’ve ever seen hosted on this. Honest to God, people did a great job.”
Local participants agreed, the dialog was unprecedented and the information made available to the task force by Fish and Game was very illuminating. The week prior to the April 8 legislative vote on the Webster appointment, the Alaska Salmon Alliance directed a letter to Karl Johnstone, chair of the Board of Fisheries, which included appreciation of the task force leaders, Tom Kluberton and Vince Webster.
Within 24 hours, Mr. Johnstone responded with clarifications. He noted, “By law, Fish and Game was solely responsible for setting the new SEG escapement goals. … The vote of the Board was simply to continue the current management plan which by necessity had to include the escapement goals established by the department.” Johnstone concluded by saying that, “It is likely the subject of escapement goals will be revisited during the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in 2014.”
There is nothing in this, or any previous record, that would cause us to think less of Mr. Webster. He represented Alaskans honorably for six years and was willing to serve another three. KRSA has purposefully distorted facts to cause his rejection, and did so only to further their interests in salmon allocation at the 2014 Board of Fisheries meeting.
That Mr. Webster cannot continue his service is a loss not only to the fishing community, but a loss to a system intended to fairly represent all Alaskans and the fisheries they enjoy and depend upon.
Regarding the vote, Gov. Sean Parnell was quoted that, “It is disappointing, discouraging and disheartening when bad information or politics prevent a qualified Alaskan from serving our state.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Paul Dale, of Kenai, is president, Snug Harbor Seafoods, Inc., and the Alaska Salmon Alliance.
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