The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted Thursday not to consider a half-dozen petitions from commercial setnetters aimed at allowing them to put their nets back in the water and participate in what is turning out to be a robust run of Kenai River red salmon.
The move essentially shuts the door on the remainder of the season for setnetters. The majority of board members felt they had too little time to consider the petitions that were received late Wednesday afternoon, leaving no time to gather staff comment.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game fishery managers closed the Kenai River to sport king fishing a week ago because of dismal returns this summer. The closure also included the setnet red salmon fishery because of the incidental catch of kings. About 400 permits were issued. The setnet fishery ends July 31.
Robert Begich, Fish and Game's area management biologist, has said the Kenai king run looks to be the lowest on record going back to the 1980s.
Gov. Sean Parnell announced last Friday that a team of top researchers and scientists is being formed to take a comprehensive look at why king salmon returns across the state are low this summer in what is a continuing downward trend. On the same day that the governor made his announcement, a group of nearly 200 people took to the streets of Kenai to protest the fishing closures aimed at protecting king salmon.
"Some of the best minds are working on this," board member Vince Webster said during Thursday's emergency meeting. "To ask us to do something last minute for a couple of days into the season, to be an armchair quarterback, in my mind would be irresponsible to do that."
Board members John Jensen and Sue Jeffrey voted in favor of considering the petitions.
"I do understand the pain and injury going on," Jeffrey said. "Even though it is the last few days ... fishermen can make a season in those last few days."
Setnetter Andy Hall of Chugiak was one of those offering an idea for opening the fishery. He said he didn't expect the board to go for his idea, which involved moving some setnetters to drift boats well off-shore, even if his petition had been allowed to be considered.
Hall said instead of trying to get a return on his $10,000 investment to set up his fishing operation this summer, he and his crew were watching fish swim by.
"Nobody asked me to make this sacrifice," he said.
David Groggia, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, said the sport fishery has had to make sacrifices too. Some clients intent on fishing for kings canceled trips. Others that could be convinced to fish for reds cut their fishing trips short, he said.
When a ban on bait was issued earlier this summer, a lot fewer kings were caught, Groggia said.
"We have been restricted this whole year," he said.
By MARY PEMBERTON