Larry Engel

Larry Engel with his May 2017 king salmon.

Editor’s note: Radio Free Palmer President Lee Henrikson and Chief Operating Officer Mike Chmielewski aired their interview with Ted Eischeid on Feb. 24.

PALMER — Following the decisions by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at their Upper Cook Inlet fin fish meetings in Anchorage from Feb. 7 to 17, riverine waterways in the Mat-Su Borough will be seeing an increase in fish passage and as a result, an increase in commerce.

Radio Free Palmer originally aired an interview with Ted Eischeid on Feb. 24 to discuss the results of the Board of Fish decisions. Eischeid serves as staff to the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission and works as a Planner II for the borough.

“I guess I’m a fish guy,” said Eischeid. “We should see more fish so it’s a big deal.”

During the interview, Eischeid detailed the funding allocated through the state in 2015 to do more research on fish science and how that research grew into policy that the BOF adopted late last month. The $2 million allocated for fish research in 2015 was used for 13 different projects, two of which were instrumental in convincing the BOF to allow for greater escapement through Cook Inlet into streams in the Mat-Su.

The first of the studies was centered around fish genetics. When commercial fisheries operate in the middle of Cook Inlet, their catch of salmon is a mix of schools that would end up in either Mat-Su or Kenai waterways. Eischeid said that Proposal 133 provided a concept of a conservation corridor, limiting the time that commercial fisheries were allowed to operate in the middle of Cook Inlet and instead moving their operations closer to the shore to allow for greater determination of where the fish they would catch were ultimately headed.

“It really gives an idea of what fish stocks are being intercepted and we found there was a lot of interception,” said Eischeid. “The problem that was happening was commercial fishing in that central district, that central corridor was having kind of a random impact on fisheries because it was mixed stock.”

All of the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission’s proposals prevailed, in part due to the overwhelming amount of public comment on Proposal 133. During deliberations, Mat-Su representative on the BOF John Wood noted the 240 comments in support of Proposal 133 with only two comments filed in opposition. With a full head of steam from February’s decisions, Eischeid already has begun gathering documents for the next upper Cook Inlet BOF meeting three years from now.

“The whole rationale is more rational, scientific fisheries management and frankly trying to not lose this tradition we have up here of vibrant fisheries and the Board of Fish agreed with the science and the arguments and we should see some fish,” said Eischeid. “Our consultant who is a fisheries scientist said you will see immediate impacts this year...We’re allowing fish to come back so people should see an immediate change and I hope they will remember a lto of that had to do with decisions made just a couple weeks ago.”

Eischeid detailed the historical decline in escapement goals and the various classifications of escapement goals. Members of the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission partnered with the Kenai River Sportfish Alliance to push for policies that would allow less interception of salmon in Cook Inlet and bring back not only the fish, but the economic boost that comes when the fishing is hot. Eischeid said that research showed the amount of direct spending on fishing in the Mat-Su Valley had been cut in half between 2007 and 2017.

“What we saw was a large, a huge decline in the economic input of sportfishing in the Mat-Su Borough. It’s still significant, but what we see is fewer fish have been returning and consequently people have not been spending as much money,” said Eischeid. “In many cases we’ve struggled to meet our escapement goals up here and in other cases we just barely meet them which, we need to meet those goals to have a sustainable fishery.”

Eischeid noted the decades long project in the borough of rehabilitating fish habitat by repairing and replacing outdated culverts that do not allow fish to travel through the stream to spawning grounds. Eischeid said that programs such as fish passage through culverts shows the borough’s commitment to fish habitat and gains favor when it comes to decisions on what fisheries will be able to intercept fish in cook inlet.

The passage of Proposal 133 also received high praise at the Mat-Su Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, at which Mayor Vern Halter and Assemblyman Dan Mayfield congratulated the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission on their fantastic work. Mayfield also announced that Larry Engel had been awarded the Conservationist of the Year honor by Gov. Mike Dunleavy at the Safari Club International banquet last week.

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