Howard Delo

The Alaska Board of Fisheries workshop session for the 2019-2020 meeting cycle was held last week. I attended both days in Anchorage and I will say that the Northern District escaped relatively unharmed, so far!

The BOF voted yet again about the location of the Upper Cook Inlet meeting this coming February and decided to keep it as currently scheduled in Anchorage rather than moving it to Kenai/Soldotna. The vote was 4-3 to remain in Anchorage. That was the “unscathed” part!

At these workshop sessions, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game makes their recommendations to the board about any changes they will be making to escapement goals and stocks of concern for fish stocks in the areas being discussed that cycle. The department feels they have the sole authority to make changes to both escapement goals and stock of concern status. What ADF&G is looking for from these presentations is BOF “rubber stamping” of the recommendations.

ADF&G is making significant changes to escapement goals for king salmon in the Susitna River drainage, or “basin” as they are terming it. I’ll mention this more later. The item that concerns me most is their recommendation to remove the stock of concern designation for the Susitna/Yentna sockeye salmon stocks.

At the January 24, 2019 meeting between ADF&G and the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, the question was asked about what criteria the department would use to delist a stock of concern. Their written reply was, “To remove a stock from SOC status, that stock should have met escapement or yield objectives over a recent four or five-year period and the escapements should fall throughout the range of the escapement goal….”

At this BOF workshop, when a board member brought up that escapement goals had not been met consecutively over the past four or five recent years for all indicator systems the department monitors for the Susitna drainage and questioned what criteria the department was using to delist Susitna/Yentna sockeye, he was told that each system is unique and must be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Quoting from their October 3, 2019, memo to the BOF, “This recommendation is based on: (1) average yield for the three indicator stocks has increased since Susitna River sockeye salmon were designated a stock of yield concern, (2) escapements in the three indicator systems have been met in most years, and (3) reduced yield can in part be attributed to invasive northern pike.”

They presented no yield data supporting the first claim and made no mention of how many years the three indicator systems have all made escapements in the same year. And finally, they talk about reduced yield due to pike, mentioning no other factors which contribute to this “reduced yield,” nor do they explain why reduced yield is a reason to eliminate stock of yield concern status for these fish.

Thankfully, when the “rubber stamp” vote was called for, one board member deflected board concurrence until the UCI meeting in February, giving the board a chance to study the information presented and ask for the information which wasn’t presented.

ADF&G is making major changes in their king salmon management scheme for the Susitna drainage. Rather than continuing to manage on a drainage by drainage basis, the department plans to divide the area into four “sub-basins:” the Yentna; Deshka; Talkeetna; and Eastside Susitna Rivers and manage each sub-basin as a unit.

One puzzling aspect is that the “new” recommended escapement goals don’t appear to be related to the original goals for each system contained in that sub-basin. Also, several areas are being downgraded from having a “biological escapement goal” or BEG, to having a “sustainable escapement goal” or SEG. When asked, the department gave no understandable reason, to me at least, how the new escapement goal range was derived for each sub-basin.

Several of these sub-basin systems are currently in a stock of concern status and the designation was recommended to go away. In turn, for example, the entire Eastside Susitna sub-basin would be declared a stock of concern.

Questions about how these sub-basins would be managed compared to individual drainages was not answered.

Questions about which “indicator systems” would be monitored within each sub-basin to see if escapement goals were being met was also unanswered. Again, when the department asked for the rubber-stamp approval, another board member stated that this should be put off until the February UCI meeting so the board could become better informed on exactly what the department wants to do and why.

Thank you to those two board members.

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