The creation of a task force last week by the state Board of Fisheries is a step toward finding solutions to the problems that plagued the 2012 fishing season, but local fishermen still have questions.
The announcement last week of a task force made up of fishermen from several user groups was welcome news to commercial and sports fishers alike, as a first step in managing salmon fisheries during times of low king salmon abundance.
“As a community, we need to figure out how are we going to deal with it on our end,” said Ricky Gease, Executive Director of the Kenai River Sports Fishing Association.
He said the patterns we’ve observed over the past few years are evidence of a new dynamic.
“Within our fisheries here, I think it’s incumbent upon us to take up the challenge and to figure out can we get some paired step-down measures so that both the in river and the set net fishery can continue fishing.”
The task force will be comprised of eight members: three Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishers, one drift gillnet fisher, two sports fishers, one sports guide and a personal use fisher. Those members will be chosen by the two chairs of the task force, Vince Webster of King Salmon and Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna.
“It’s kind of hard to consider how beneficial this is going to be to us,” said Paul Shadura, a commercial setnetter and spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association.
"We’re still considering what representatives will be chosen to be on this task force and that in itself could be the recipe for either beneficial ideas coming out or things remaining as they are,” he said.
Everyone who has been affected by the management policies currently in place have called for a better system of enumerating king salmon, because accurate data will ostensibly lead to the most equitable management plan. The transition to a new SONAR counter and how those numbers stack up against history is a concern for Shadura.
“We’re waiting for the department (of Fish and Game) to come with a post-season analysis of how many kings actually spawned from the late run in the Kenai River; we have no idea what that is,” Shadura said.
“Until we know what that is, we really don’t know how to design our conservation plans,” he said.
Of course, most of the problems faced by sports and commercial fishers would be greatly reduced if sockeyes and kings could be effectively separated, bringing equipment changes into the conversation.
“I do think there’s something to maybe what others are trying to do out there in terms of maybe reconfiguring setnets so that they can harvest sockeyes and allow kings to pass through,” Gease said.
For Shadura, gear selection is based on what works.
“Would traps work to exclude kings, I think it’s very possible that we could have that tool,” he said. ”But as for smaller traps or other things like changes in the size of the gear; I think that the reason that we’re fishing this type of gear for so long is because it’s been effective."
The task force is scheduled to meet for the first time in mid-November in Kenai and should have its recommendations for changes to the management plan drafted in time for the statewide fish meeting in March.