Compass: Setnetters share burden, stake in sustaining Kenai kings

Dan Coffey's recent compass piece, "Act now or we will lose the Kenai River kings (July 24)" once again illustrates this former Alaska Board of Fisheries chairman's bias toward he commercialized sport fisheries on the Kenai River, as well as his willingness to twist/omit facts in pursuit of marginalizing the historic setnet fishery on the Kenai Peninsula to maximize in-river participation. Coffey lists: ocean survival, high-seas trawlers, setnetters, marginal productivity, and "there may be others" as reasons for the decline of Kenai River kings.

To not even include the in-river, commercialized king salmon sport fishery in a conversation regarding the protection of Kenai River king salmon stocks is disingenuous. This fishery takes place in the main stem of the Kenai River (mentioned as a spawning area by Mr. Coffey) and for decades has practiced hook-and-release fishing, taking the biggest kings out of the spawning population.

This fishery, along with setnetters, has borne the brunt of ADF&G conservation measures over the last two seasons designed to ensure adequate king salmon escapement. It's unlikely that either of these fisheries, setnetters or in-river users, is responsible for the dramatic decline in king salmon stocks as this is a phenomenon happening in river systems all across the state. This certainly seems to point to a problem in the ocean environment.

While these groups may not have caused the problem, the fact that they are significant harvesters of the resource means they both should be included in the dialogue regarding conservation efforts. Mr. Coffey's effort to advance his agenda by pitting one side against the other when we all should be working together is not productive.

Mr. Coffey did write about conservative management of the in-river sport fishery but alluded that this is not the case with setnet fishermen because they received 12 additional hours of fishing time a week, "roughly, through emergency orders by Fish and Game."

In fact, at the time of his writing the east side of Cook Inlet setnet beaches had averaged only 6.2 hours a week of extra time( 24 extra hours are allowed by regulation) in the 5 weeks the season had been opened. All told, setnetters had only fished 30.2 hours a week. All other emergency orders limited setnet fishing to a 600-foot wide swath of beach in the mouth of the Kasilof River.

In addition, setnetters had also already been denied extra fishing time when surplus sockeye salmon were plentiful on the beaches in order to conserve Kenai king salmon. They have now lost even regularly scheduled openings for king salmon Conservation. There is no doubt setnetters have suffered significantly alongside in-river users.

Management of Kenai River king salmon will be up for review at this winter's Alaska Board of Fisheries. All user groups are currently suffering from the decline of king salmon stocks. Those of us who live here and utilize this resource, including setnetters, guides, business owners and sport fishermen, will have to genuinely contribute to the upcoming dialogue if we are to be successful in preserving this resource and our livelihoods.

We should also demand that we do not return to the tainted Board of Fisheries process that allowed a person with Mr. Coffey's obvious bias to become the chairman.

Karl Kircher is