Fish and Game has done it again. Out of cycle, with no chance for the public to comment, they have made a major, game changing regulatory change in Cook Inlet fisheries. By lowering the chinook goals 20%, it allows more fishing time by the ESSN before emergency action is taken, and more fishing time by in-river users, as well as more fishing time with bait. In a time when all indicators, including the report itself, are that returns have been much smaller in recent years, the department has decided that making the low returns of recent years the norm, and the range that should be achieved by their management. Incredible! Why even have a Board of Fish process? Last year they write the regulations wrong to allow more drift net fishing, exactly opposite of the Board's intent, and now they decide they have to set new chinook goals from the new sonar information they have. Apparently it is way too important to wait one more year to allow the public process to fully play out. A full season's overfishing by the drift fleet because of a "clerical error" in the department wasn't addressed or corrected by the department; (a judge struck down an injunction by the board on the grounds that the department is always messing up regs, so a new messup in regs wasn't grounds for emergency action from the board)
A couple years ago the Department changed the goals for the Susitna/Yentna sockeye out of cycle. For those that forgot, there used to be sonar near the Yentna's mouth that provided an inseason sockeye count and management tool. In a system where up to half the salmon spawn in streams and sloughs, the Dept decided to use three major lake systems to determine the health of the run. They took away any chance of limiting over fishing by the drift fleet in season, as they can only check the success of the return after the season is over when the fish are in their spawning grounds. It was a decision with enormous management implications, also enacted solely by the Department out of cycle, with no public input.
What is the department thinking? The department is claiming the old sonar on the Kenai miscounted fish; so it could overcount kings by assuming reds were small kings. If this were true, and the current, "more accurate counter" is a better reflection of real counts, then staying within the current OEG would provide excellent sport fishing opportunity and plenty of fish for the ESSN and dipnetters as well. I don't understand ADF&G's point. It seems like they're trying to say there didn't used to be as many kings in-river as the sonar said. However, with the old sonar, when it said there were lots of kings, inriver fishing also supported that; lots of fish were rolling and being caught. Now with the Didson numbers, it seems like if it shows few kings, lack of sport fishing success correlates to that, and if it says lots of kings are coming through, fishing success also correlates with many fish being caught. So to say that because the new numbers are more accurate they can lower the goals is ludicrous! Look at the restrictions in the last couple years on sport fishing, dipnetting and setnetting that were necessary to achieve the escapements that were achieved!