Primarily and Minimize – Where do these important directives come from in the Upper Cook Inlet salmon management plans? Part One.

A quick read through the management plans that govern the salmon fisheries of Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) will highlight the use of the terms primarily and minimize. But where did these important directives come from, what do these terms really mean and how are they implemented? In part one, we will examine the historical context of the terms primarily and minimize.

Prior to the mid-1970s the UCI commercial salmon fishery spanned the months of May through September. Many of the stocks that supported fishing in May, June and September were at historical low abundance by the early 1970s. Sport fisheries were small but depended on some of those early and late stocks particularly early Russian River sockeye, all early run king salmon and late-run Kenai River coho salmon. In 1976 an agreement, now referred to as the Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Management Policy, was reached that basically stated the following: salmon moving through the marine waters of Upper Cook Inlet prior to July 1 are to be managed primarily for sport, salmon moving through the marine waters of UCI from July 1 through August 15 are to be managed primarily for commercial uses, however the commercial fishery should be managed in a manner that minimizes the incidental take of Susitna coho, late Kenai king salmon and early Kenai coho salmon stocks. After August 15 salmon stocks moving to spawning areas in the Kenai Peninsula drainages will be managed primarily for recreational uses and salmon other than those spawning in Kenai Peninsula drainages will be managed primarily for commercial uses.

As the mixed stock, mixed species sport and commercial fisheries became more intense and economic values for the sport fishery soared, the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) developed codified step-down plans for each of the major salmon species identified in the UCI Policy. As these step-down plans were adopted the primarily language was shifted from the UCI Plan to each of the codified step-down management plans. Now the UCI step-down plans that govern important fisheries each contain in its opening section a purpose statement. These purpose statements are just that, a purpose statement. The statements are important in that they lay out the overall approach desired by BOF.

The purpose statement included in 5 AAC 21.359 Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan states, “the purposes of this management plan are to ensure an adequate escapement of late-run king salmon into the Kenai River system and to provide management guidelines to the department. The department shall manage the late-run Kenai River king salmon stocks primarily for sport and guided sport uses in order to provide the sport and guided sport fishermen with a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon resources over the entire run, as measured by the frequency of in-river restrictions.”

The purpose statement for 5 AAC 21.360 Kenai River Late-Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan states, “the department shall manage the Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon stocks primarily for commercial uses based on abundance. The department shall also manage the commercial fisheries to minimize the harvest of Northern District coho, late-run Kenai River king and Kenai River coho salmon stocks to provide personal use, sport, and guided sport fishermen with a reasonable opportunity to harvest salmon resources.”

The BOF recently formed a Task Force to examine strategies for managing the UCI salmon fisheries during these times of low abundance of king salmon, particularly late-run Kenai River king salmon. Since the purpose statements are sections of the codified regulations they should provide fairly specific direction to the Task Force. If that is to happen it is important to first understand just what each of these directives has come to mean in terms of prescriptive regulations and historical distribution of the harvestable surplus.