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2020 Board of Fish

2020 Board of Fish - Upper Cook Inlet

The Board of Fisheries’ main role is to conserve and develop the fishery resources of the state by developing targets and tools for the Department of Fish and Game to use in managing Alaska’s fish resources.

In February 2020, the Board met in Anchorage to revisit regulations for Upper Cook Inlet – including the Kasilof River, the Kenai River, and Mat-Su valley rivers and streams.

Since 1984, KRSA has been a leading advocate for fisheries conservation in Alaska, working diligently to ensure Alaskans’ recreational fishing rights are protected and the fisheries are healthy for generations to come. This work continued with the proposals KRSA submitted and worked on during the February, 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting. A brief summary of the outcomes of these proposals is listed below or view the report here.

KRSA Proposals

Proposal 104 – Kenai Late-run King Plan

Passed, with amendments

The Board adopted an amended version of KRSA’s proposal with substantial conservation benefits for this iconic run during periods of low abundance. The plan adopted was the product of extensive negotiations among affected user groups.

The plan protects the fish first, and provides some level of stability and predictability for both sport and commercial fisheries. The plan shares the work of conservation among fisheries by requiring paired restrictions in both the in-river and commercial sectors.

Elements of the revised plan include:

  • A new Optimum Escapement Goal (OEG).
  • Protection for late-run Kenai king salmon over the entire length of the run.
  • Incentives for the use of shallow gillnets during periods of low King abundance.
  • A 600 ft setnet fishery opportunity (exempt from hour restrictions).
  • East Foreland setnet sites now subject to the plan (sites north of the Kenai river mouth).
  • Limitations in the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area for commercial fisheries.
  • A 34-inch sport fishery retention option under some circumstances.

Optimum Escapement Goal – The OEG increases the Kenai River late-run king escapement goal that the Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) manages towards. Moving away from managing to the low end of goal range and back toward the middle of the escapement goal range will help avoid years like 2019 where the goal was missed. This allows the fishery to realize the future benefits of higher escapements. The OEG moves toward management for consistently higher numbers based on maximum sustained recruitment – a better standard for a sport fishery than simple maximum sustained yield. Higher returns will be good for every fishery.

Protections over the entire length of the run – This plan extends the paired restrictions from a focus only on July. Restrictions may begin as early as June 20th, coinciding with the Kasilof setnet fishery, and extend into August. Earlier restrictions will help pass more kings and sockeye into the rivers in the initial stages of the runs, which should preserve management flexibility later. An extension of restrictions into August avoids the situation where the in-river fisheries are restricted all year but then the setnet fishery gets liberalized in August.

The plan only allows for a return to normal management in August when the king OEG is achieved – this means fish counted in-river, not just projected in-river. Because kings will continue to pass the counter after this point, this conservative standard encourages the total escapement of kings to be within the range of the OEG.

Shallow Nets – This plan incentivizes (and may require) commercial setnet fishers to use shallow (29 vs. 45 mesh) nets at all times under paired restrictions. There is strong evidence that shallow nets will reduce king catches and increase selectivity for sockeye.

600 ft set net fishery exemption from hour restrictions – The plan allows for additional fishing time inside 600 ft of the beach with shallow nets – these hours are exempt from the paired hourly restrictions. The 600 ft requirement substantially reduces set net effort as only a portion of sites are within this area and much of the area is dry on the low tide.

East Forelands inclusion – At the 2017 Board meeting, the East Forelands setnet fishery north of the Kenai River was exempted from paired restrictions based on arguments that king catches were low in this area. This exemption was rescinded in the revised 2020 plan.

Kasilof Special Harvest Area inclusion – The Kasilof Special Harvest Area is now subject to hour limitations in the paired restrictions where previously it was not. This area at the mouth of the Kasilof River was historically commercially fished only when Kasilof sockeye goals were likely to be exceeded.

<34” sport fishery retention – This option was added by the plan to the management toolbox. It is designed to allow some retention of small fish under some conditions as an intermediate step between all-size-retention and catch-and-release only. The plan allows for a paired 36 hours of set net fishing time – intermediate between 48 and 24 hours in the previous plan. This change is bundled with the net depth restriction.

Related actions which also affect the east side set net fishery:

  • Slightly earlier start date for the Kasilof set net fishery in some years – The trigger for earlier opening was reduced from 50,000 to 30,000 sockeye, and it is open on the 20th of June unless closed. The previous trigger of 50,000 led to early openings about 25% of the time. It is estimated that the change to 30,000 will be triggered about 50% of the time, resulting in one or two extra days of commercial fishing in the years it does open early.
  • Additional limited fishing north of the Blanchard line during the first week of July – Regulations were amended to allow fishing north of the Blanchard Line during the first week of July where previously this area opened on or after July 8. From July 1-8, set gillnet gear is limited to 29 meshes and 4 ¾” mesh size and must be fished within 600 ft the mean high tide mark. These openers are exempt from the time limits specified in the King plan because they are inside of 600 ft. The small mesh means these nets only hang approximately 10 ft deep, and they have to be closely tended, which increases the possibility that kings may be released alive.

Proposal 195 – Setnet closure 2% rule

Substitute proposal passed 

The 1% rule provides for evidence of a reduction in sockeye catches by the commercial fishery as an indication of the biological end of the run. The effective date for the 1% closure rule was changed by the Board from August 7 to July 31. The Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game clarified that he interpreted this measure to include any period – including the 600 ft openers, not just regular commercial fishing periods.

Proposal 88 – Realign Kenai Sockeye In-river Goals with new escapement goals

Passed, with amendment

All fisheries will benefit from higher future returns produced by larger sockeye escapements with this change. Recent data has shown that maximum sockeye yields are produced at much larger escapements than previously estimated. Accordingly, ADF&G proposed an increase in the Sustainable Escapement Goal range. Without this change, sockeye would have effectively been allocated away from the in-river fisheries.

Run

strength

In-river goals
Old KRSA Proposal New
< 2.3 mil 900,000 – 1,100,000 1,000,000 – 1,400,000 1,000,000 – 1,200,000
2.3-4.6 mil 1,000,000 – 1,300,000 1,200,000 – 1,600,000 1,100,000 – 1,400,000
> 4.6 mil 1,100,000 – 1,500,000 1,400,000 – 1,800,000 1,200,000 – 1,600,000

How are run strength, escapements, and in-river goals different?

Run strength is the total number of salmon in a stock which survive to adulthood and return to the vicinity of their natal streams.

Escapement is the number of fish which pass all fishing pressure and are available in-river to spawn. Escapement goal ranges are determinations by ADF&G of how many fish should be allowed to return to spawn to maximize the long-term sustainability of a specific stock of fish.

In-river goals typically estimate the number of fish which can be anticipated to be harvested by subsistence, personal use, and/or sport anglers, and adds that number to the escapement goal. In other words, in-river goals represent the number of fish needed for escapement PLUS harvest in-river above a counter, weir, or where escapement is estimated. The difference between the in-river goals and run strength provides an estimate of anticipated commercial harvest.

Proposal 129 – Limit drift gillnet depth to 29 meshes

Failed

Failed. However, passage of Proposal 178 (7-0) permanently closed drift gillnetting within one mile of mean high tide north of the Kenai River and within one and one-half miles of mean high tide south of the Kenai River. Keeping the drift nets offshore may effectively achieve the same purpose as #129 in protecting the deeper-running kings.

Proposal 154 – 3 coho bag limit in Aug when setnets close

Failed

This proposal failed to pass the Board out of concern over the lack of coho assessment data.

Proposal 78 – Allocation Criteria

Failed

This proposal was reduced in scope, with substitute language which explicitly recognized the importance of each fishery for providing residents the opportunity to harvest fish for personal use and family consumption. This amended proposal failed to pass the Board.

Proposal 121 – Kasilof Goal Priorities

Proposal withdrawn

Proposal 121 provided guidance that the lower end of the Kenai king goal takes priority over not exceeding the upper end of the Kasilof sockeye goal. However, this issue was largely addressed by adoption of proposal 104 and by the Commissioner clarifying on the record that, generally, this reflected his management philosophy. Consequently, KRSA withdrew this proposal.

Other Actions

Susitna Sockeye Stock of Yield Concern Designation

The Stock of Yield Concern designation was removed at the recommendation of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Proposal 133 – Strengthen the Conservation Corridor

Passed

This proposal by the Mat Su Fish and Wildlife Commission passed 6-1. It removed one district-wide commercial fishing period in July at the middle sockeye run-size tier, and all district wide openers in August. During these periods the drift gillnet fishery is restricted to areas closer to shore (expanded terminal harvest areas) along the east side of the inlet to provide a conservation corridor up the middle of Cook Inlet. These changes should substantially reduce the intercept catch of northern-bound sockeye and coho and increase delivery of salmon to streams throughout the inlet.

In addition, the Commissioner and legal counsel confirmed that a fishing period was not more than 24 hours.

Proposal 234 – New Susitna Personal Use Fishery

Passed, with amendments

This is an entirely new dip net fishery on the lower Susitna river. It is boat-accessible, two days per week and runs from July 10-31 with a possible extension through August if sockeye and coho are exceeding their upper escapement goals. This fishery is focused primarily on chum and pink salmon. Kings may not be retained.

Proposals 215, 217, 217 and 199 – Northern District King Salmon Management Plans

Passed, with amendments

A variety of proposals were effectively combined, establishing a Susitna and Little Susitna king management plan, providing greater predictability in management. An escapement goal of 16,000 to 22,000 was adopted for Yentna River kings. In a noteworthy joint agreement between in-river and commercial users, the Board passed paired restrictions between the northern district set net fishery and the Deshka sport fishery.

Proposal 124 – Drift Gillnet Plan Intent Language

Passed, with amendments

This proposal bolsters priority intent language in the Central District Drift Gillnet Plan, and directs that the fishery be managed to deliver harvestable surpluses of salmon to in-river users. The previous intent language only provided direction for escapement.