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Board of Fisheries Should Stand Strong for Troubled Kenai River King Salmon

October 19, 2021–Later this week the Alaska Board of Fisheries will conduct its annual “work session”. These work sessions include considering formal Agenda Change Requests (ACRs) for upcoming meetings.  While there are several ACRs before the Board at this week’s work session, KRSA and is concerned about six ACRs addressing Upper Cook Inlet.

For background, regulations for each fishery type and region in Alaska are revisited by the Board of Fisheries on a 3-year rolling cycle. Upper Cook Inlet was last reviewed by the Board in early 2020. The Board at that time took historic and well considered action to conserve King Salmon in the Kenai River.  

A careful examination of the regulatory history of the Kenai River King Salmon Plan makes it clear that sharing the work of conservation across all user groups has been central to the Board’s plan to manage and rebuild Kenai River Kings. The regulations in place this summer which shut down both sport and commercial fisheries to taking Kings due to low escapement was necessary and unfortunate, but not unforeseen.

With that brief history, KRSA is strongly recommending that the Alaska Board of Fisheries reject all six Agenda Change Request that are asking the Board to take up critical aspects of the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan prior to the regular meeting cycle for Upper Cook Inlet.

The Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan is one of the cornerstone fishery management plans governing salmon management in commercial, sport, and personal use fisheries in the Upper Cook Inlet. Upper Cook Inlet supports the most complex mix stock, mixed species, and mixed user group salmon fisheries in the State and is also home to a majority of Alaska residents and a destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

Any change to this Management Plan outside the regular meeting for all of Upper Cook Inlet will unavoidably result in challenges implementing the other important fishery management plans in Upper Cook Inlet.   Due to the complexity of Upper Cook Inlet fisheries, KRSA recommends rejecting the six ACRs. These issues can be addressed in a more comprehensive and responsible manner when all of Upper Cook Inlet comes up in the regular Board meeting cycle.

In addition, none of the six Upper Cook Inlet ACRs meet the criteria identified by the Board as necessary for accepting a request to take up issues out of the regular meeting cycle. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has submitted a detailed document laying out the reasons that none of the requests met the criteria.

KRSA appreciates the challenges seen on the Kenai River over the past several years, where King salmon have failed to meet minimum escapement goals resulting in closure of opportunity across multiple user groups. As difficult as it was, the Board of Fisheries made the right call this summer in deciding to stick to the plan they established in 2020 – and they deserve a great degree of credit for that decision.

We look forward to working with the Board, the Department of Fish and Game, and all stakeholders in seeking reasonable salmon conservation and harvest strategies for Upper Cook Inlet within the regular Board meeting cycle.

This statement was also published in the Anchorage Daily News and can be read here.