Kodiak opposes salmon cap agenda change

Adult sockeye salmon encounter a waterfall on their way up-river to spawn. (Photo by Marvina Munch/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Adult sockeye salmon encounter a waterfall on their way up-river to spawn. (Photo by Marvina Munch/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Kodiak is gearing up to oppose what it considers a threat to its fisheries.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released a study  last year that found a percentage of Kodiak area sockeye salmon are Cook Inlet fish.

Some Cook Inlet fishermen now want to set caps for sockeye salmon in the Kodiak area.

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association is asking the Board of Fisheries to consider an agenda change at its work session next month.

The change would move the consideration of a new Kodiak area management plan up to a sooner date. The next time the Board of Fisheries is scheduled to look over the management plan is 2020.

The request is based on findings from a genetic study of sockeye salmon in the western Kodiak management area.

According to the study, Cook Inlet sockeye salmon made up roughly 8 percent of the overall sockeye sampled in 2014, 37 percent in 2015, and 30 percent in 2016.

United Cook Inlet Drift Association vice president Eric Huebsch said it throws Cook Inlet’s sockeye management off when other areas harvest their fish.

“All the escapement goals come into question. The brood tables, the management plans, all those things are dependent on using the best science we have, and when those fish are harvested into another area, the data’s not gathered in this area, we don’t know how many fish were being caught, and so the department can’t do its job.”

Huebsch wrote a letter to the Board of Fisheries in January posing the question of how Kodiak’s interception of salmon as they travel into Cook Inlet affects escapement.

He would hope the board would take a look at the management plan in light of the latest genetic work to minimize the harvest of Cook Inlet and other non-local stocks.

Fish and Game’s Westward regional supervisor Nick Sagalkin said they published the study results last year, and Sagalkin says they weren’t really surprising. At least locally.

“The areas we expected to find most of our major stocks – like sockeye salmon for Karluk – we were finding those in the areas that we expected, we were finding them in the temporal we expected.”

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association is requesting sockeye caps through the last week of June and through the month of July. When Kodiak fishermen have caught the max number of sockeye, all salmon fishing stops.

But Sagalkin said that’s not how the management system currently works in Kodiak. Instead, it’s based on the health of the run.

“There’s sort of a couple of things that that concept misses is that it doesn’t take into account all the other species that we’re targeting – pink salmon, chums – and it doesn’t really even look at how we’re trying to control escapement.”

He said there is one sockeye cap – on the North Shelikof Strait.

A sockeye salmon management plan there limits harvest of sockeye to account for the last time the issue came up in 1988. Cook Inlet and Kodiak fishermen grappled back then too, and the Kodiak Salmon Work Group formed as a response.

And now the work group is back.

They’re rallying other Kodiak stakeholders including local government to protest the agenda change.

At their recent joint work session, the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and the Kodiak City Council looked over a letter they’ll jointly address to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

The letter addresses the damage the fishing limits could cause to the Kodiak economy.

Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer said the word that comes to mind is “catastrophic.”

“The facts that I’ve heard in regards to it, it’s devastating for our community,” he said. “I don’t want to ever be guilty of crying wolf or anything of that nature, but on this one, there are truly catastrophic consequences.”

The letter also states the agenda change request fails to meet the Board of Fisheries’ three requirements for a change: meaningful new information, conservation concerns, or mistakes in regulation.

The deadline for the city and borough to sign and send the letter is October 3, as is the rest of public comment.

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