UCI King Salmon Task Force – Sharing the Burden of Conservation – Part Three

As put forth in KRSA’s proposed Late-Run Kenai River King Salmon step-down management matrix, it is our position that the burden of conservation must be shared between the sport and commercial set net fisheries when in-season restrictions are required to achieve the escapement objective. Further, this regulatory burden of conservation between the sport and commercial set net fisheries should be shared in a prescriptive and paired step-down manner consistent with language in the Policy for Management of Sustainable Salmon Fisheries (PMSSF – 5 AAC 39.222).

Specifically when ADFG assesses that restrictions are required and bait is prohibited in the in-river sport fishery then the commercial set net fishery is restricted to no more than 24 hours of fishing time per week. The personal use and marine sport fisheries would also face restriction. If a further step-down of the fisheries is required to achieve the escapement objective then the in-river sport fishery is restricted to catch and release, and the commercial set net fishery is restricted to one eight hour opening per week. If escapements are projected to fall below the SEG then the fisheries should close. Restrictions in place for the set net fishery on July 31 when the sport fishery closes would remain in place unless the department projects that the escapement of late-run kings would fall outside the precautionary zone bounds of 15,000 to 22,000.

In contrast and as noted in part two, the proposal from commercial fishing interests also calls for a sharing of the burden of conservation when in-season adjustments are required, but their first step is to place the burden of conservation on the fish, not the users. By creating an OEG and lowering the escapement goal by 2,000 – 4,000 fish, king salmon bear the brunt of any conservation measures in their plan. What is of interest, though, is that any additional step-down measures for conservation in their plan when the minimum escapement goal of 15,000 could not be met are very similar, but not the same as those we recommend.

In their proposal, specifically the restriction of bait in the sport fishery would be paired with a restriction of up to half of the authorized hours of fishing time per week in the commercial set net fishery. This would be 36 hours in the middle tier of abundance for late-run sockeye. A further restriction to catch and release would be paired with a 12 hour per week restriction in the set net fishery. This is the first time that members of the set net community have publically support the concept of any type of paired step-down measures prior to closure of both sport and set net fisheries. At this time, set net users prefer to use time restrictions as the best means to control their harvest of king salmon. The big caveat with their concept of paired restrictions is that they only take place below the minimum escapement goal and come off whenever an escapement of at least 15,000 kings is projected. We believe that this will not result in a distribution of escapements within the SEG as proscribed by the PMSSF.

The PMSSF gives policy direction for situations as we currently face and is a valuable touchstone for figuring out how to define what success looks like in terms of identifying the best mix of fishing opportunity during times of low king salmon abundance and the best means of attaining the escapement goal:
• Base decisions to ensure conservation of salmon and the sustained economic health of Alaska’s fishing communities;
• Wild salmon stocks should be maintained at levels of resource productivity that assure sustained yields;
• In the face of uncertainty, salmon stocks and fisheries SHALL be managed conservatively;
• A PRECAUTIONARY approach that takes into account the uncertainties in salmon fisheries should be applied to regulations and control of harvest;
• Where the impact of resource use is uncertain, but likely presents a measureable risk to sustained yield, priority should be given to conserving the productive capacity of the resource.
• The burden of conservation will be applied to users in close proportion to the users’ respective harvest of the salmon stock.

We believe that our proposed management matrix best achieves the objectives set forth for the task force. We put the fish first by following the precautionary principle of the PMSSF. We provide for prescriptive and paired step-down measures that avoid the disastrous sport and commercial closures witnessed in 2012. We maintain historical harvest rates and retain management directives for kings and sockeyes. And finally through the step-down measures the burden of conservation is shared between user groups at low king salmon abundances. The outcome of such measures will look to achieve escapements above the minimum escapement goal even at low abundances, while providing for no less than two 12 hour periods per week for set net fishery and retention but no bait for sport fishery, with implementable and transparent trigger points for management.

As we discussed in a prior blog the focus of the UCI king salmon task force is king salmon, not sockeye. In 2012, the harvest of sockeye salmon by all user groups in UCI was equal to the preseason forecast of 4.4 million. ADFG has many tools to deal with management of sockeye – what is needed now are new tools to deal with management of king salmon at low abundances.

Unless the BOF adopts new restrictions on king salmon harvest at low runs, the new lowered escapement goal will support a substantial increase in fishing rates on record low runs of Kenai kings during a period of declining abundance, uncertain future productivity, and failure of the historic stock assessment methodology. An average exploitation rate consistent with the proposed new escapement goal substantially exceeds the maximum rate estimated at any point in the last three decades. Without prescriptive and paired restrictions in the sport and commercial set net fisheries as the lower bound of the goal is approached, there will be a substantial and unacceptable increased risk to fish.

The task force process while frustrating at times was constructive in narrowing down and clarifying the options that the BOF will have before them in March when they deliberate and adopt an interim plan for 2013. We want to thank BOF members Vince Webster and Tom Kluberton for co-chairing the task force process and thank the members of the task force who volunteered their time.