March 6, 2008 Homer News "It's fully allocated."
"Biologists to manage UCI for escapement goals"
By Cristy Fry
Management of Upper Cook Inlet salmon stocks underwent
a fundamental change at the Alaska Board of Fisheries
meetings in February with the adoption of a proposal
that directs state biologists to manage the stocks to meet
Stocks in VCI have previously been managed under
a complex system that attempted to satisfy various user
groups, a plan that has led to chronic over-escapement in
the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.
By passing proposal 130, the Board of Fisheries clarified
that escapement goals are a priority over current regulations
that limit allowable fishing time, closed windows and
fishing areas. It essentially freed up the Emergency Order
authority used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
to manage for biological goals.
Jeff Fox, area management biologist for commercial
fisheries, said management for in-river goals does not necessarily
provide more flexibility, but rather directed flexibility.
He had positive things to say about the change in
"You should manage for the escapement goal," Fox
said. "That's why we have them."
Fox pointed out the in-river goal is an allocation and
to allow over-escapementconstitutes a re-allocation, something
the Board of Fisheries is mandated to consider.
The new regulationmeans Fish and Game can open the
commercial fishery in what are referred to as "windows,"
mandatory closures for setnetters late in the week designed
to put fish in the rivers on weekends for sport and personal
Another significant board action was a decision to list
sockeye salmon in the Yentria River, the largest tributary
in the Susitna drainage in the Susitna Valley,as a "stock of
yield concern." There are three different classifications for
stocks of concern, or SOC, with yield concern being the
lowest level. The classification refers to the lack of harvestable
yield over and above the escapement goals.
Sport fishermen in the Susitna drainage have long
pointed to interception by the commercial drift gillnet fleet
in VCI as a cause for low sockeye returns, although beaver
dams and pike released into salmon habitat as well as
warmer water temperatures also are thought to playa role.
However, escapement numbers in the Yentna are the
subject of much controversy, and studies are under way to
determine how many fish are returning to the system. Those
studies are pointing to the Yentna receiving not just minimal
escapement, but, in some cases, probably over-escapement.
The tool used to count returning fish in the past has
been the Bendix sonar counter, which in 2006 showed
an escapement of 93,000 fish, while a weir study showed
126,000fish.When a DIDSON sonar was placed next to the
Bendix, it counted 160,000 fish. In 2007, the Bendix read
80,000, the mDSON 130,000, the weir study 97,000, and
a mark and recapture study as many as 250,000 fish in the
The lower end of the escapement goal for the Yentna
River for 2006 and 2007 was 90,000 sockeye.
It is hoped the action plan that was set up as a result of
the sac listing will bring with it funding to sort out what is
happening, said Fox.
"We are probably going to install a different counter,"
he said. "We've had the mDSON up there, but we're probably
going to look at it more realistically. The escapement
goal is supposed to be one of total spawner abundance, so if
the Bendix counter is grossly undercounting, it's a problem.
So we're hoping to get some money for weirs, and then get
some (different) counters, and see how that works. That's
kind of why we set up the action plan, to see just what is
Over-escapement is as much of a concern as under escapement,
and it's important to find out if either is happening
for the health of the river and lake systems, Fox said.
"Everyone is saying that there are no fish up in the Valley,
but the studies say something completely different," he
said. "We're managing for 200,000 in the (entire) Susitna
(drainage), but we're probably putting 400,000 to 600,000
in. That's a problem."
Fox challenged the claim that commercial fishermen
are harvesting too many of the Susitna sockeye.
"Genetic studies showed in 'OS,with a 5 million (sockeye)
return to the Kenai, that we harvested 10,000to 20,000
Susitna (sockeye),"he said.
The trouble, according to Fox, is that there are too
many fishermen for the number of fish.
"The problem is that every fish here has somebody's
name on it, maybe two or three people's names," he said.
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