KRSA Agenda Change Request to the Alaska Board of Fisheries – Part Two

Part two of excerpts of KRSA’s ACR to the BOF:

2) STATE IN DETAIL HOW YOUR AGENDA CHANGE REQUEST MEETS THE CRITERIA STATED ABOVE. If any one or more of the three criteria set forth above is not applicable, state that it is not applicable.

I. For a fishery conservation purpose or reason:

The abundance of late-run king salmon of Kenai River origin is a fraction of what was observed on average during the past three decades. The 2012 run is likely the smallest on record. Although the minimum escapement objective is thought to have been achieved in 2012 this accomplishment occurred only because of near total closure of all fisheries that harvest significant numbers of these fish. Furthermore, using the abundance assessment techniques applied by ADFG in 2012 to the 2009-2011 data leads to the conclusion that this important stock of king salmon has been barely at or significantly below the minimum spawning escapement goal of 17,800 fish for the past four years.

Year……..Sonar Type…..Sonar Count……..Harvest……..Escapement
2009…Target Strength..25,688……………8,530 (a)…….17,158
2010……….Didson…………17,795……………4,800 (b)…….12,995
2011……….Didson…………20,212……………5,800 (b)…….14,412
2012……….Didson…………18,340……………150 (b)……….18,190

(a) ADFG Fishery Management Report No. 10-51. Includes catch-and-release mortality.
(b) Calculated by using 90 percent of the SWHS survey for total in-river sport harvest as in 2009.
(c) As of August 10, 2012.

This is NEW INFORMATION and establishes a CONSERVATION PURPOSE for this agenda change request.

At the last BOF work session in October 2011, ADFG introduced a paper detailing conversion of current in-season abundance assessment data into what they called “target strength” or TS currency, with TS being the sonar assessment tool used to estimate abundance prior to the failure of that technique on the Kenai. The conclusion provided in the paper was that escapement in 2011 was likely equivalent to about 27,000 “target strength” fish with a confidence interval around that estimate of 9,000 – 51,000 fish. This conclusion came as a shock to many of the participants in the fishery who were widely skeptical of the conversion back to the obsolete TS-currency. In 2012 for the bi-weekly summaries of late-run Kenai River king salmon fish counts, ADFG data tables abandon TS-currency based data altogether, and instead use only Didson sonar estimates and related abundance assessment indices.

II. Correct an error in regulation:
An “error” in regulation exists as a result of the current management plan covering only the time period July 1 – July 31 when the late-run of Kenai River king salmon is present in the marine waters of UCI and in the Kenai River from late June through August.

A second “error” in regulation stems from the fact that the BOF has adopted into regulation a management plan for late-run Kenai River king salmon that specifies numerical escapement objectives and other abundance driven trigger points for management actions, such as prohibition on the use of bait, restriction to catch-and-release, prohibition of retention of king salmon in the personal use fishery, and total closure of both the in-river sport fishery and the commercial set net fishery. However, ADFG is currently not able to estimate the in-river return within a suitable degree of certainty to fulfill the State’s sustained yield mandate or carry out the specific stipulations detailed in the late-run Kenai River king salmon management plan.

A third “error” in regulation exists because, now obvious, omissions in 5 AAC 21.359 leave ADFG in the position of having to allocate opportunity among beneficial users by deciding when and by whom small numbers of late-run king salmon may be killed even while escapement objectives are still in question. Examples of this observed during 2012 include the pre-season closure of 60 percent of the area in the river open to sport fishing and the pre-season prohibition on the use of bait in the late-run Kenai River king salmon sport fishery, while in the only regular opener in June fished by the commercial set net fishery (the other regular opener was closed) over 100 late-run kings were harvested. Later, only one regular opener of the commercial set net fishery was allowed during July and during that period more kings were killed than during the entire sport fishery in July, which was open to harvest through July 10 and catch-and-release through July 19 (estimated harvest and CR mortality less than 150). In August ADFG prohibited the use of bait in the Kenai sport fishery during the first few days of the month then rescinded this restriction and also opened the commercial set net fishery. By the end of its truncated season, the commercial set net fishery still had harvested more king salmon in 2012 that the combined harvests of both the commercial drift fleet, which fished practically non-stop in its July fishery, and the in-river sport fishery, with its step-down restrictions and closure. These statistics reveal the mismatch of management tools available to ADFG to minimize harvests of king salmon in the sport and commercial set net fisheries and point to an ERROR IN REGULATION.

III. Correct an unforeseen effect of a regulation:
Although, in concept, the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan speaks to management at very low levels of abundance, the reality of ADFG carrying out that task, particularly while also managing for large returns of late-run sockeye salmon to both the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers, was clearly UNFORESEEN or at least unappreciated at the time the regulation was adopted.

At the February/March 2011 UCI BOF meeting and again at the October 2011 BOF work session, ADFG described the difficulties they experience with respect to implementing the management plan for late-run king salmon in the Kenai River, yet on each occasion the Department stated that they could implement the existing plan and that the existing plan would provide both for sustained yield and orderly fisheries. 2012 illustrates that this is clearly not the case. When ADFG did allow commercial set net fishing in August, rather than state that the escapement objective for late-run king salmon in the Kenai River was assured, their statement was far more ambiguous and “based on the Didson sonar indices, the risk of not achieving adequate escapement is low.” The unfortunate situation experienced in 2012 was certainly UNFORESEEN when the regulation was adopted and also UNFORESEEN when most recently reviewed.

Alaska’s Policy for the Management of Sustainable Salmon Fisheries directs the BOF to assure that management programs and decision-making procedures are able to clearly distinguish and effectively deal with biological and allocative issues. This is CLEARLY not the case with late-run Kenai River king salmon at this time.