I think the Kenai River sockeye salmon management plan is pretty well written and provides for a good balance of competing users but I think there is room for improvement. I agree that the Kenai River sockeye salmon fishery should be managed primarily for commercial uses based on abundance. There usually is just too many sockeye salmon surplus to escapement that the sport and personal use fishery canít harvest. I agree with the allocation levels set out in the management plan which are contained in the inriver goals that vary depending upon run size. Without the inriver goals, the commercial fishery would be obligated to only put the minimum amount necessary for escapement, 500,000 fish. If all they ever put into the river was 500k, there wouldn't be enough for a sport fishery. I also agree with the provision that provides for a personal use fishery.
Where I think the plan needs some work is clarifying which goal each fishery should be managed for. I believe that under (b) of the management plan, numbers 1, 2, & 3 are objectives that work together to achieve the spawning escapement goal while providing for inriver uses.
ď(b) The Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon commercial, sport, and personal use fisheries shall be managed to
(1) meet an optimum escapement goal (OEG) range of 500,000 - 1,000,000 late-run sockeye salmon;
(2) achieve inriver goals as established by the board and measured at the Kenai River sonar counter located at river mile 19; and
(3) distribute the escapement of sockeye salmon evenly with the OEG range, in proportion to the size of the run.Ē
I believe the plan then lays out specific requirements for each fishery as to which goal they are to achieve. Under (c) the plan specifically states that the commercial fishery shall be restricted when the department determines the minimum inriver goal will not be met. Under (g) it specifically states that subject to the requirement of achieving the lower end of the optimal escapement goal, the department shall provide for a personal use dip net fishery in the lower Kenai River. And under (h) the plan states that subject to the requirement of achieving the lower end of the optimal escapement goal, the department shall manage the sport fishery on the Kenai River, ÖÖ... as follows.
To me, the confusion begins under (b) when it makes a general statement including each of the fisheries, but then goes on to make specific requirements for each fishery. If the personal use and sport fisheries are required to be managed for the inriver goal then why isnít that specified under (g) and (h)?
I believe it is because the commercial fishery is the primary tool used to control escapement into the Kenai River and as such, it can affect inriver harvest and participation.
I believe the management plan should clearly state that the sport and personal use fishery is not responsible for meeting the inriver goal, only the OEG. I think sole responsibility for meeting the inriver goal should be the commercial fishery because they have the fishing power to control fish moving into the Kenai River. Why should the sport fishery below the sonar be responsible for meeting the inriver goal which is an allocation to the sport fishery? That doesnít make sense. In addition, the sport fishery below the sonar may harvest only 20,000 sockeye on a big year.
The personal use fishery is limited to a short season, only 3 weeks, and starts out conservatively by only being open from 6am to 11 pm. This nighttime closure acts as a window similar to the commercial fishery which can pass fish through the fishery. The personal use fishery harvest and effort fluctuates depending upon how many fish are put into the river. The total run to the Kenai River could be over 4 million, but if only 700-800,000 fish make it into the river, the personal use harvest isnít going to be above average. If the personal use fishery is obligated to meet the inriver goal, then this fishery may have to close a week early, only to have the commercial fishery start fishing again once the inriver goal is projected to be met. It may only take a period or two of sitting on the beach for enough fish to make it into the river and push the counts up to achieve the inriver goal. I donít think the personal use fishery should have to close so the commercial fishery can continue to fish. If the personal use fishery season was open as long as the commercial fishery, then maybe things could be different, but it isnít. The history of the personal use fishery as it functions today has shown that harvest and participation will increase and decrease depending upon how many fish are entering the river. In a year like this season, harvests will likely be on the low side, just like the commercial fishery and the sport fishery.