The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission (MSBFWC) held their annual meeting with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s two fisheries divisions this past Monday evening in the borough’s Assembly Chambers. The purpose of the meeting is to review department management actions taken during the previous season (2021) and to discuss planned management actions for the upcoming season.
The normal meeting format involves the MSBFWC submitting a series of questions to the department asking for a written response. The questions are then discussed, often in more detail than the written answers contain. This can lead to further questions along that same topic or related material.
Since the borough has developed the ability to hold meetings online, there were no ADF&G representatives present – everybody was attending electronically. Almost all the commission members were present (one was online) along with a half-dozen members of the public. Approximately a dozen or more folks were listening in online as well. One state representative listened in and both the new borough mayor and the manager were present. The assistant manager was also in attendance.
The department supplies written summaries from both Sport Fish and Commercial Fisheries about high and low points and management actions taken during the season under review. On a lighter note, in the Sport Fish summary, I asked how one system could fail to reach an SEG (sustainable escapement goal) yet meet an OEG (optimal escapement goal) in the same year for the same species in the same system. SEG’s are always lower than OEG’s, so missing the lower number but making the higher number is a good trick.
I suggested there may have been a typo involved. I didn’t hear the department’s response, but there were a few chuckles amongst the folks attending. Let’s just write that one off to “fuzzy math.”
Concerning some of the other questions asked, the department only gave partial answers or responded with an “it depends” kind of answer. One commission member pointed out twice that the department only answered half of the original question and pushed for a more complete answer.
Generally speaking, most of the commercial catch numbers were below a long-term average, because of below average return numbers of fish. Because of the way various management plans are structured in Cook Inlet, when returns are “weak,” commercial fishing time is more restricted. This lack of nets in the water often results in more fish making their way to the Northern District and into our river systems.
On the Sport Fish side, most of the systems made at least minimum escapement goals, even though it was a low run year. Restrictions on commercial fishing in this year of weak returns allowed enough fish to escape into their natal systems that fishing was relatively steady throughout the season.
Probably the topic most folks wanted to hear about was how the department plans to manage the commercial fisheries considering the feds closed all commercial fishing in federal waters of Cook Inlet. The department’s answer was that, at this point, no changes from the established management plans are anticipated. However, here’s one of those “it depends” answers. If a strong run of fish occurs, which “overwhelms” the fleet’s ability to control return numbers in state waters, then something different would need to be considered.
In other words, it’s too early to give a definitive answer as to how, exactly, the department might manage the drifters and, to a lesser extent, what effect this area closure will have on managing the setnet fleet fishing in state waters. I don’t envy the commercial fisheries manager his job in this regard. He will, most likely, “be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” regarding any action taken until the department gains experience managing this situation.
Overall, I thought the meeting went well and we gained some useful information about our salmon fisheries and how they are being managed. I appreciate the department’s fisheries biologists being willing to face these, at times, tough questions and giving the best answers they can, based on the information they have available.
While I am occasionally critical of department actions, I understand the problems and limitations they deal with, and I applaud their dedication to doing the best job they can in managing our Cook Inlet salmon stocks.
On another note, I’ve developed a couple of health issues. I’ll be dealing with the more serious “mystery” ailment over the next month or so and the ankle sometime this spring. I’ll let you know how things go.