Howard Delo

Most of the fall big game hunting seasons are over with a few still extending into the winter months. Most anglers have put away their summer gear and some are readying their ice fishing equipment for the beginning of hardwater fishing in a couple of months. We’re entering the beginning of the outdoor political season.

This year’s Board of Fisheries cycle has two of their scheduled four regulatory meetings dealing with Cook Inlet fisheries. The cycle begins with the board’s annual workshop in Anchorage on Oct. 23-24 at the Egan Center. Several things will be happening at this workshop meeting.

First, while no public testimony will be taken and no specific regulatory actions will be voted on, a taste of things to come this cycle will be presented by the department to the board. I suspect yet another attempt to move the Upper Cook Inlet meeting back to Kenai/Soldotna will be made.

This UCI meeting was originally scheduled for Anchorage a couple of years ago, but an unpublicized vote at the Sitka meeting moved the meeting to the Kenai. Another vote, with more public awareness, was held during a later meeting and the site was moved back to Anchorage. I’ve heard rumors that a second attempt to move the meeting to the Kenai might be in the works.

This workshop meeting is where the department presents the board with their recommendations on escapement goals and Stocks of Concern for fish populations being addressed during the cycle year. This year, the department is recommending major changes in king salmon escapement goals in the Northern District (that’s us!) and, it’s rumored, some unsettling moves in Stock of Concern status for sockeye in our area.

Regarding Stocks of Concern, I’ve heard the department is going to recommend that the Susitna/Yentna sockeye population be removed from the SOC listing, even though the river system, using Fish and Game’s own preferred counting methodology, failed yet again to achieve the recommended escapement goals in 2019. Since 2009, this population of sockeye has only made the recommended escapement goals maybe two or three years at most.

Over the last couple of years, there has been discussion of how to delist a SOC once it has been listed. Several strategies have been proposed, but to my knowledge, nothing has been decided and formally adopted. I have neither seen nor heard any explanation of how the department has arrived at this possible delisting recommendation.

SOC recommendations are based on several things, with “yield” being a major consideration. For our king salmon populations, while several are already listed, we’ve had virtually no yield in the Northern District for several years. Why hasn’t the department recommended that all the king salmon populations in the Northern District be listed as Stocks of Concern based on loss of yield? I don’t know, but they have not.

On to escapement goals. The department is proposing creating four “sub-basins” within the Susitna River drainage for king salmon: the Yentna River, the Deshka River, the Talkeetna River, and the Eastside Susitna River. One escapement goal for each sub-basin would be established, with the discontinuation of ten or possibly eleven currently established goals.

These “new” goals are also all lower than current goals. The department started using what is known as the percentile approach a few years ago to develop escapement goals. This methodology essentially results in lower recommended escapement goals if returns over recent years have been trending downward. It recommends increasing the goals for populations which have been trending upward over the same period.

Thus, since our Northern District king salmon populations have been trending downward in return numbers, the escapement goals have been generally lowered. For the Kenai, the recommended goals are either rising or have no recommended change.

The results are similar for Coho salmon with the exception that the upper end of the Fish Creek return has been increased from 4400 to 6000 fish. The recommended goal range for Little Susitna silvers goes from 10,100—17,700 to 9,200—17,700. There are no recommended changes for sockeye salmon in the Northern District, but the Kenai River goal is being raised.

The department’s approach to dealing with the consistent and repeated failure to reach escapement goals in the Northern District seems to be lowering the escapement goals, rather than changing management to get more fish into the district. Written comments are due by Oct. 8 to the BOF.

Tomorrow is National Hunting and Fishing Day. Take someone out and introduce them to our wonderful heritage!

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