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Greed vs. conservation in king management

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In a recent letter to the Clarion, I expressed my disappointment in the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game's Kenai River king salmon management. As a long-time fishing guide, I admitted partial responsibility for our struggling king runs. I also put blame on every other user, including local, tourist, and commercial fisherman. But mostly, I pointed the finger at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the state entity that is charged with the responsibly of managing our resource to ensure sustainability of our salmon for future generations, something they have grossly failed to do.

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This past week ADF&G not only proved this once again, they flippantly poured salt into the wounds of every person who cares about the future of these genetically unique Chinook. Exhibiting a shocking combination of arrogance and ineptitude, ADF&G issued Emergency Order #38, which opened the Upper Subdistrict Set Gillnet and Central District Drift Gillnet corridor, putting east-side set nets in the water for another 56 hours of continuous fishing.

This order boldly extended the setnet fishery outside provisions in the management plan, specifically the 1 percent rule trigger for closure.

ADF&G recently announced that for 2011, the low-end of the escapement goal for late run Kenai River King Salmon would not be achieved. According to Department publications, this will mark the fist time ever that this conservation goal for late run Kenai king will not "officially" be met. With Fish and Game's past sonar problems and previous "less than stellar" runs where exact numbers are called to question, this becomes an issue not to be taken lightly. Yet almost in the same breath that they announced a failed king escapement goal, Fish and Game went outside of the management plan and issued another EO that granted additional commercial fishing time, resulting in less kings entering the river.

According to ADF&G's own data, as of last Thursday, 6644 kings have been caught in the set net fishery. That compares to 6458 total in the sport fishery for the season. So the commercial catch already exceeds the sport catch, despite the management plan sport priority for kings. Now additional set net time killed another 200 plus a day. This discussion, and these numbers, might initially appear allocative until you consider ADF&G's own admission that the minimum in-river escapement goal will not be met. Now the issue is clearly conservation.

It is unfathomable to me and other responsible users of the resource that in the Department's eyes, the short term goal of trying to harvest a few more sockeye in the east-side set net fishery (in a banner year when over five million reds were taken by commercial fishermen) is a clear priority over conservation of wild Kenai kings.

So here is the real question for our Commissioner and our fishery managers -- how do you sleep at night knowing that your decisions and actions clearly tell us, the people of Alaska, that "greed trumps conservation" in fishery management?

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