Stock Assessment Finds Faults in King Salmon Research

Shaylon Cochran

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     The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its Chinook Salmon Stock Assessment and Research Plan. At the center of the proposed plan is a stock specific, life history-based approach to research focused on 12 indicator stocks, from across the state.

     ADF&G’s Chinook Salmon Research Team put the plan together, along with help from federal agencies and other researchers. They highlight a fundamental need to more precisely characterize productivity and abundance trends of Chinook salmon stocks across the state, gather essential information to understand cause for recent declines, track future population trends.

     Locally, researchers looked at the Kenai River, which did see its minimum escapement goal for kings met last year, but not before shutting down commercial sockeye fishing as a result of management actions put in place during low king runs.

     The team identified gaps in its assessment of current stocks, namely a known historical bias in the assessment due to misclassification. When sockeye and pinks and kings are all in the river at the same time, the old sonar couldn’t differentiate between them, driving estimates of Chinook up.

     The team also noted that there is currently no program to estimate smolt abundance, which would help researchers learn more about where the Chinook go and in what numbers.

     To close these gaps, the research team laid out four projects: one for estimating smolt abundance, another to get a more comprehensive estimate of who’s catching kings out in Cook Inlet, a study of local and traditional knowledge of Kenai River king salmon stocks and the big one, a three year project to move the sonar site and run assessment upriver where more of the river can be surveyed by sonar.

     Of course, all those projects come with a price tag. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million, which is how much Governor Sean Parnell put in his budget this year for Chinook research; part of a 5 year, $30 million research initiative. That’s in addition to the more than $14 million Fish and Game already spends annually on Chinook research and management.

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