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Thread: F&G memo: stock of concern for 6 Chinook stocks

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    Default F&G memo: stock of concern for 6 Chinook stocks

    I just received this from F&G, forwarded from the Kenai/Soldotna AC. Memo concerning chinook stock of concern. There are 6 Upper Cook Inlet stocks listed in this memo. I'll withhold comment for a bit... I'd like to hear what others think after looking through the report.

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    Quote Originally Posted by willphish4food View Post
    I just received this from F&G, forwarded from the Kenai/Soldotna AC. Memo concerning chinook stock of concern. There are 6 Upper Cook Inlet stocks listed in this memo. I'll withhold comment for a bit... I'd like to hear what others think after looking through the report.
    Pike, Beaver, development.....in no way shape or form do commercial fishermen have a significant impact.

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    For whatever reason I couldn't open this document. What were the six UCI systems listed? Brief summary of document?

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    Quote Originally Posted by iceblue View Post
    For whatever reason I couldn't open this document. What were the six UCI systems listed? Brief summary of document?
    Chuitna River Chinook (management concern) (new)
    Theodore River Chinook (management) (new)
    Lewis River Chinook (management) (new)
    Alexander Creek Chinook (management) (new)
    Willow and Goose Creeks Chinook (yield) (new)
    Susitna sockeye (yield) (continue)

    I've got an issue with the Alexander recommendation (not pike-related), but I'll have to post that tomorrow.

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    Default Should Alexander Creek be a conservation concern instead?

    Okay…bear with me folks, I'm about to seriously geek-out on y'all with policy.

    Here’s the issue (or questions) I have with the Department’s “management concern” recommendation for Alexander Creek Chinook salmon. It’s not necessarily wrong, but in my opinion it likely doesn’t go far enough…it could/should be a considered to be a “conservation concern”.

    Get out your administrative code books, or at least the Policy for the Management of Sustainable Salmon Fisheries (SSFP, as I’ll call it here) it’s 5 AAC 39.222, and can be found at:
    http://www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/f...s/ssfptext.pdf

    A quick refresher: the SSFP calls for three levels of “concern” if salmon stocks are not producing as they should be: yield, management, and conservation.

    A yield concern is the least severe of the three “concerns”. It’s when you’re making the escapement goal, but the run is not producing as much of a harvestable surplus as it usually does (definition at 5 AAC 39.222 (f)(42), “[…]a concern arising from a chronic inability, despite the use of specific management measures, to maintain expected yields, or harvestable surpluses, above a stock's escapement needs[…]”)

    A management concern is the next level of concern and it’s when you’re not making your escapement goals (definition at 5 AAC 39.222 (f)(21), “[…]a concern arising from a chronic inability, despite use of specific management measures, to maintain escapements for a salmon stock within the bounds of the SEG, BEG, OEG, or other specified management objectives for the fishery […]”)

    A conservation concern is the most significant of the three levels of concern, and it goes beyond simply not meeting escapement goals, (definition at 5 AAC 39.222 (f)(6), “[…]concern arising from a chronic inability, despite the use of specific management measures, to maintain escapements for a stock above a sustained escapement threshold (SET)[…]”). This definition brings in a new term, the “sustained escapement threshold, or SET, as the level of escapement not being met. Now, the SET should not be confused with regular escapement goals, be they BEG’s, SEG’s or OEG’s…or even when these goals are expressed as a threshold, instead of a range (this is a topic for another discussion).

    The SET, (defined at 5 AAC 39.222 (f)(39), “[…]a threshold level of escapement, below which the ability of the salmon stock to sustain itself is jeopardized; in practice, SET can be estimated based on lower ranges of historical escapement levels, for which the salmon stock has consistently demonstrated the ability to sustain itself; the SET is lower than the lower bound of the BEG and lower than the lower bound of the SEG; the SET is established by the department in consultation with the board, as needed, for salmon stocks of management or conservation concern[…]”) (my bolded emphasis added for reference in discussion below)

    So, the SET is some kind of critical point, lower than the escapement goals typically used as management targets, and below which the stock could really be in trouble. The definition gives some general guidance about what a SET could represent, but the SSFP does not provide definitive direction in how to determine the SET for a stock.

    So here’s the rub: A “conservation concern” is defined as not meeting a SET but without an established SET you don’t know if you have a conservation concern.

    ADFG seems to be avoiding SET’s and thus, conservation concerns. This is not some new issue to them (at least to some staff); I’ve brought it up in discussions several times in the past 4 or 5 years, and I brought it out in a committee discussion at the March BOF meeting last year. The “as needed” clause in the definition of a SET gives the Department the discretion about when to establish a SET amount. During the BOF meeting, I argued that the SSFP should be amended to require SET’s to be determined anytime a stock is listed as a yield or management concern. Unfortunately, when I get wonky into the details of the SSFP, some people’s eyes glaze over, or they get lost in excuses.

    Even though the SSFP as currently written still talks about the Department’s discretion to establish SET’s when a stock is listed as a management concern, there is not a single reference to SET’s anywhere in the UCI stock of concern memo where FOUR Chinook salmon stocks are being recommended as management concerns. Did they even consider this? Did they look at it and decide it wasn’t appropriate to do so at this time (and if so, why)? The memo doesn’t say a word.

    However, the memo does talk about the dire status of Alexander Creek Chinook salmon, “Chinook salmon to this system in the past five years have been far below the SEG, averaging 393 fish annually.” The SEG is 2,100 to 6,000 Chinook, and the 5-year average escapement has only been 18.7% of the lower bound of the escapement goal? If this isn’t a candidate for a SET and possible conservation concern, I don’t know what is...but we don’t know if this stock is a conservation concern because we don’t have a SET.

    Before anyone talks about pike, or Germans, or the northern district, or whatever; forget it. The policy’s levels of concern are established regardless of the cause(s), known or unknown, controllable or not. The levels of concern are also independent of whatever management measures may or may not need to be taken; those come after the stock of concern designation is made, when action plans are established.

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    One additional note. I have not (yet) asked the department about any of the specific issues/questions I raised in my above post. Perhaps I should have done so first, however, and as I mentioned, I have alreadly raised the general issue several times before only to be met with resistance or lame excuses (in my opinion).

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    Some questions:

    How much "opportunity" does Alexander Creek represent—sport and/or commercial harvest?

    How much "opportunity" could conceivably be threatened should ADF&G establish SET's for all the stocks of concern—sport and/or commercial harvest?

    Could the absence of such SET's be attributed to lack of resources/personnel on the part of ADF&G?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marcus View Post
    Some questions:

    How much "opportunity" does Alexander Creek represent—sport and/or commercial harvest?
    Kind of irrelevant, IMO, at this point in the discussion. However at this point in time, the opportunity is near zero.

    How much "opportunity" could conceivably be threatened should ADF&G establish SET's for all the stocks of concern—sport and/or commercial harvest?
    Also irrelevant to this discussion, but since you asked, a SET, by itself prescribes no specific management measures. There is nothing in any regulation that directly (literally) says that management to achieve a SET (or SET's) trumps all other management objectives. However, since a SET is supposed to be a level of escapement below which a stock's ability to sustain itself is jeopardized, someone could make the arrgument that you're violating the "sustained yield" mandate that is everywhere from the AK Constitution to the statutes, to the regs and policies.

    Could the absence of such SET's be attributed to lack of resources/personnel on the part of ADF&G?
    I doubt it. I think it's being avoided for a few possible reasons. One is that the policy doensn't give specific guidance about how a SET is determined...and I don't think it necessarily should. These are determined on a stock by stock basis and perhaps different approaches/methodologies would be warranted for different stocks based on something like the quality of available data. However, there are a number of approaches that could be examined as possibilities. One is "critical reference points" which are used often in ESA-related matters (a reason to avoid this?). Another approach could involve maintaining the genetic integrity of the stock (avioding bottlenecks). How about using risk assessments? Who knows?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MRFISH View Post
    However, the memo does talk about the dire status of Alexander Creek Chinook salmon, “Chinook salmon to this system in the past five years have been far below the SEG, averaging 393 fish annually.” The SEG is 2,100 to 6,000 Chinook, and the 5-year average escapement has only been 18.7% of the lower bound of the escapement goal? If this isn’t a candidate for a SET and possible conservation concern, I don’t know what is...but we don’t know if this stock is a conservation concern because we don’t have a SET.
    Incredible.....

    ***? Falling asleep at the wheel?
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    The main question is what is ADF&G research doing to define what the issues are and recommendations for the future. I have no doubt that the BOF will close the commercial fishery and it will not change on iota the escapement numbers. They only catch a couple thousand fish and those fish are headed for hundreds of streams, with the Susitna River being the major producer. So the question is what is going on in the freshwater environment of these streams production wise and if not an issue there where?

    Today, I went into the office of ADF&G and asked about Slikok Creek chinook and the KAFC proposal. Remember this is a system that has even lower numbers than those listed as stock of concern. The ADF&G still has not taken a position on what to do if anything - no studies planned on habitat, maybe no weir or video camera next year, and today no answers for those chinook streams in the Northern District. So unless those valley folks can get money to ADF&G or some other group to look at the instream conditions we will just watch the streams go downhill.

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    I was thinking about the same thing, Nerka.... how much the demise of Alexander Cr kings in the Susitna parallels the demise of Slikok kings in the Kenai. Not necessarily with regard to the cause of declines, but more that they are both small tannic streams and the first major king spawning tribs in their respective systems.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    . I have no doubt that the BOF will close the commercial fishery and it will not change one iota the escapement numbers. They only catch a couple thousand fish and those fish are headed for hundreds of streams, with the Susitna River being the major producer
    I expect you are only referring to the UCI commercial fishery being closed, as opposed to the others that catch these fish.

    And do you perhaps mean that the reported commercial catch is only a couple of thousand fish?


    Aside from those statements that I think are misleading,l I appreciate what you say. I do think there are instream conditions that could be improved. However, I think the "current" and "past 4-6 year" instream conditions could produce plenty of juvenile chinook, if the spawners were arriving as they were in the 80s and 90s.

    We can only look to ocean survival to produce the spawners, and they fact of the matter is they just aren't making it back.


    I walk the upper Little Susitna (a chinook stock apparently not of concern, *cough, cough*) routinely from late July into September, and it was 8 years ago that I last saw a chinook that I would say was over 30 pounds up there. Used to be able to count on seeing a few dozen 5 or 6 year fish up there, and I can't say that I've even seen one recently. Of course, what I see is just what I see, and nothing more, but it is in many ways more than what adf&g sees on their 1 annual flyover.

    So if this is my fairly dedicated observations of a stock that is apprently, not pathetic enough to yet warrant concern, I can only imagine what the tribs of concern look like in August.


    And while it is obviously true that in-stream angling pressure removes a bunch of those Chinook, when we see streams that don't have the intense angling pressure also suffering to meet escapement, I am awfully tempted to look ocean-ward. Don't you think?

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    I think you're totally right, andweav. We have too many streams that are NOT making escapements statewide for it to be just an inriver issue or issues. Look at the total picture, pin down all sources of mortality, and find out if rearing conditions are ok.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fishNphysician View Post
    I was thinking about the same thing, Nerka.... how much the demise of Alexander Cr kings in the Susitna parallels the demise of Slikok kings in the Kenai. Not necessarily with regard to the cause of declines, but more that they are both small tannic streams and the first major king spawning tribs in their respective systems.
    I agree with you, and disagree, Doc. The difference between the two is that at its peak the sport fish harvest from Alexander Creek was 6200 fish! That would more than cover the escapement threshold for the 4 major Parks Hwy streams! And it was enough to support a multi million dollar lodge industry. But it was ok to let that go away in order to complete a 10 year study on effects of pike on a major king salmon spawning/rearing system... how special.

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    Quote Originally Posted by willphish4food View Post
    I agree with you, and disagree, Doc. The difference between the two is that at its peak the sport fish harvest from Alexander Creek was 6200 fish! That would more than cover the escapement threshold for the 4 major Parks Hwy streams! And it was enough to support a multi million dollar lodge industry. But it was ok to let that go away in order to complete a 10 year study on effects of pike on a major king salmon spawning/rearing system... how special.
    What 10 year study?

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    Quote Originally Posted by commfish View Post
    What 10 year study?
    Fish and Game wanted to see what having a slot limit to allow anglers to keep small pike while leaving some large pike in the system would do to keep the pike in check. They needed 10 years to be able to fully assess its impact.

    What I have always alleged is that it could have been effective, if the lower end of the slot had been bigger. Instead of 20, make it 26 or higher. I advocated for a bar of 30". 1 per day, 2 per year over, all you want under. We know big pike kill little pike. We know anglers like to catch pike. They really like to catch big pike. They do not like to clean a mess of 20" and under pike, nor ride 60 miles to get to that mess of tiny pike.

    Now that the 10 years is up, we are seeing very proactive measures on the part of the department to get the pike numbers down. Finally. It will take a while to restore the chinook runs, but it can be done.

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    There is no way a sport fishery can put enough pressure on pike to make a difference in the limited access Susitna River. The issue of pike needs a comprehensive approach that is not happening. A fully funded research effort with people from all divisions involved is necessary. Here on the Kenai the local biologists are doing two different things and they are not working together. The research approach was not well thought out and the local Fish Habitat Partnership steering committee on one proposal thought it was one of the poorer written proposals. The other study done using pressure waves did not have an operational plan and missed the mark on getting some good information. While both investigators had their heart in the right spot the lack of coordination, cooperation, and science in the approach pointed out the lack of a unified approach to the issue of pike in salmon streams in UCI. If the new Commissioner wants to really make a difference she could reorganize the Department on special projects first and see how it goes.

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    We need an all-out JIHAD on non-native pike. They have disrupted the balance of the system much to the detriment of native salmonids.

    I hope the Kenai pike problem never escalates to the level seen in the Susitna basin.
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    Quote Originally Posted by willphish4food View Post
    Fish and Game wanted to see what having a slot limit to allow anglers to keep small pike while leaving some large pike in the system would do to keep the pike in check. They needed 10 years to be able to fully assess its impact.

    What I have always alleged is that it could have been effective, if the lower end of the slot had been bigger. Instead of 20, make it 26 or higher. I advocated for a bar of 30". 1 per day, 2 per year over, all you want under. We know big pike kill little pike. We know anglers like to catch pike. They really like to catch big pike. They do not like to clean a mess of 20" and under pike, nor ride 60 miles to get to that mess of tiny pike.

    Now that the 10 years is up, we are seeing very proactive measures on the part of the department to get the pike numbers down. Finally. It will take a while to restore the chinook runs, but it can be done.
    This was never a study, rather it was a management strategy that may or may not have been better than doing nothing. Sounds like F&G is changing things up on the Alexander and working to kill large numbers of pike.

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    My experience with northern pike and salmonids is that you can have one or the other, but not both in the same water. Pike will win this battle every time!!

    If the water is to be managed for salmonids, then the fewer pike you have the better, with zero pike the desired situation.

    Willphish4food - I disagree with a management plan that would allow a few large pike to be protected and left in the system. A few large pike equals reproductive potential. If you are managing for salmonids you want to eliminate the reproductive potential of the predator that is negatively affecting your desirable fish population.

    ClearCreek

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