In the last BOF cycle for Cook Inlet, ADFG staff opposed a proposal for a river-wide, season-long slot limit. Given the unexpected finding that 45% of late run kings fall within the 44-55” slot, staff cited the following reasons for their opposition:
1) A lack of conservation concern for large late run kings.
2) Excessive forgone harvest opportunity on healthy late run stocks.
3) Disproportionate harvest preferentially targeting the younger age classes.
As the author of that proposal, I must concede that these are all very valid concerns, yet I am perplexed that staff proposed no alternative plans to secure even some small measure of additional protections for troubled mainstem ER5-o spawners in July.
I propose for your consideration a compromise slot plan that applies through July 14 in all areas open to king salmon fishing from the river mouth upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake. Several key features of said plan will effectively address staff’s cited concerns.
1) Historically only 30% of the late run enters the river by July 14. This plan would not affect the remaining 70% of the return from July 15 forward.
2) Of the affected portion, only 45% would fall within the 44-55” size range. That means “unharvestable” slot kings would, at most, comprise only 14% of the late run. (0.3 x 0.45 = 0.135)
3) All of these late run slot kings become available for harvest once again on July 15. That means the sport fleet has an additional 17 days to harvest them. Basically, these kings are only unavailable for harvest 14/31-ths of the month.
Effectively, a mere 6% (0.30 times 0.45 times 14 divided by 31 = 0.06) of the late run is excluded from harvest under this proposal. It would still enable the fishery to liberally exploit the remaining 94% of this healthy stock. Because nearly the entire late run remains in the harvestable pool of kings, concerns about harvesting equally across all age classes become irrelevant. In essence, ALL of staff’s objections to the original proposal become non-issues.
In addition, recent entry-pattern trends in the late run make it even less likely that any large late run fish would be affected by this compromise slot plan. In the past 5-6 years, the age-sex composition of the late run fish entering the river in the first 2-3 weeks of July has been predominated by small 1- and 2-ocean males. Very few large fish actually enter the river during this time period. Most of the large fish that are present in the lower river fishing zone at that time are actually mainstem spawners lingering from the early run. Since the bulk of large late run fish do not enter the river until well into the third week of July, extending the slot limit in the lower river during the first two weeks of July actually impacts exceedingly few large late run kings. It would however prevent many large ripening early run kings (all of which were fully protected just days earlier in June) from being mistakenly and irresponsibly harvested as “late run” kings in the lower river.
By implementing this compromise proposal, the Board stands only to gain in terms of conserving ER5-o mainstem spawners. Conversely, the Board stands to lose almost nothing in terms of forgone harvest opportunity on a healthy late run stock. It is difficult to imagine a conservation plan with a better risk: benefit ratio.