Your concerns about this year's sockeye counts with a "Pink Bias" are what a great many folks are thinking and saying too.....MYSELF included. During this past week we had the highest daily counts of the entire run yet I watched 5 dedicated snaggers flipping bare hooks, complete with a dedicated netter in their bunch on July 31 (just before I went dipping in the afternoon). That day was counting 66,786 REDS (the biggest day of the year) and these guys are fishing just TWO miles upstream of the counter. That is an average fish passage rate of 2782 REDS an HOUR which is split on both riverbanks to 1400 REDS per HOUR and these guys got ONE small fish in a half hour before I quit watching. Now you tell me how 700 reds passed by these five guys in 30 minutes fishing illegally and one smallish Hidden Lake red was snagged? That is nearly 12 reds a MINUTE going by these five guys. That is ONE RED EVERY FIVE SECONDS through FIVE snag hooks! And no one was hitting fish at Soldotna Park along that bank just upstream either. I have not received a single fishing report that detailed fishing success equivalent to these daily counts from anglers fishing in the typical public access areas. Even with the DIDSON counting more fish than the Bendix system, a 66,000 red day would have been 47,000 reds on Bendix numbers and I would have seen limits all up and down the riverbank on a day like that. This year, even before the pinks hit, you had to work HARD every day for a limit of reds with the exception of those few "sweet spots" on the river that are easy or fairly easy limits even on slow days as long as some fish are passing.
The ADFG Kenai Sockeye Sonar Counting project includes a fish wheel near the sonar which continuously dips a "sample" of the fish moving along the shoreline. ADFG biologists then count the various species of salmon caught in the trap and use that percentage to base their DAILY SOCKEYE Counts on. So if the fish box on the wheel had 200 reds and 200 pinks then that day's sockeye count would be more or less 50% of what the sonar counted. This is far from accurate, dependable, and trustworthy BUT its the only thing ADFG has at its disposal to determine the split between counted pinks and counted reds. And since pinks are not like reds and may travel further out from shore, many pinks in concentrations being counted on the sonar may not be within the fish wheel sampling zone near shore. This is were the PINK BIAS and error rate in sockeye accuracy comes in. And so the numbers you are seeing and the lack of high angler success rates pretty much spells it out as numbers you can't go by.
WITH THAT BEING SAID, I just checked with the Commfish division and ADFG announced this morning (Wednesday) that due to the inaccuracies of sockeye counts being reported because of the numbers of Pinks in the river they will NO LONGER POST DAILY SOCKEYE COUNTS. They will continue to use the fish wheel and have engaged in a netting program to better assess the composition of the fish schools moving up the river. (Closing the gate after the horse is out of the coral.) Some of the previous daily counts may be adjusted after the season based on the combination netting and fish wheel information.
LASTLY, I like you are very concerned about ADFG using these past couple of years numbers for managing the commercial harvest of Kenai sockeye. This single sockeye run is probably the most valuable salmon run in the state when accounting for the commercial harvest value, the Personal Use dipnetters value and the tourism/sport fishing value to this area. It impacts not just hundreds of jobs relying on this run, its HUNDREDS OF BUSINESSES with multiple employees relying on this run. Overcounting of sockeye escapement and managing commfish harvest based on those numbers will have future repercussions. There is no denying it. When ADFG Pre-Season Cook Inlet and Kenai River sockeye forecasts in the future come in way over what ended up in the nets for that coming season, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT BACK AND DO OVER! You live with the results. And the PROOF confirming those erroneous escapement numbers will be when all other Southcentral/Kodiak sockeye runs come in at expected levels so there is no way to claim "Mother Nature screwed the Kenai run" and didn't affect any other sockeye fishery return.
We have ALL our eggs in ONE BASKET. A single sonar system that is raising serious doubts in the public eye is being used as the ONLY means of determining true inriver sockeye passage.
- There is NO CONSIDERATION OR MONITORING OF THE FOLLOWING DEPENDABLE REALTIME INDICES & INDICATORS:
- The previous day's dipnetter success & harvest at the mouth of the Kenai River
- The Sport angler catch rates during the daily passage of apparent large sockeye numbers
- The volume of fish being processed at local processors on the day of and day after huge counts are reported
- Catch rates and volume of sockeye processed by Kenai River lodges and guiding operations
- Monitoring sockeye catch rates in the King Salmon test netting project at the lower Kenai River king sonar project location
- And lastly, the observations of Alaskans who LIVE ON THIS RIVER and KNOW whether the counts are accurate or not based on decades of fishing this river in their own backyards from Beaver Creek all the way to the Kenai Keys
And all of this is IGNORED as additional indicators of sonar count accuracy. We don't count. The numbers WE are putting or not putting on the board in our daily use of this resource DON'T COUNT. The Fox with tunnel vision (the Mgmt Plan & sonar counts) is guarding the Hen House. And we are going to pay for it in a deterioration of our local river-based economy as failure of future sockeye runs to produce the world class experience we are trying to develop will fail to own up to its earlier reputation as RELIABLE.
The state is getting ready to enter some tough economic times with oil running out, a multi-billion dollar cash giveaway subsidy to the oil companies, and a failure to find any significant oil discoveries or prospects that will turn around our negative state revenue shortfall to pay for our annual budget. Alaska's next ten years will need to be the transformation period to a private business based economy. And that means developing our Tourism and visitor count to the MAX to keep money flowing into Alaska. We can't do that when the NON-COMMERCIAL resource users of our fisheries are totally and completely ignored as step children who get the scraps and leftovers. We are heading for a state income tax, or state sales tax, or raiding the Permanent Fund, or a combination of these to fund our growing State Budget as the oil runs out and we are spending more than we take in. The little pools and pockets of oil the North Slope producers are "advertising" in their commercials won't even keep up with the North Slope production decline. You can't get oil (and state revenue) out of an EMPTY RESERVOIR. The bathtub is nearly dry! Pay attention folks. (I worked in Alaska's oil fields in production for 22 years!)
OK, I'm off the soap box.