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Worrisome Alaska silver salmon run on fish board agenda

Suzanna Caldwell

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries will meet Wednesday to discuss several emergency petitions geared at managing northern Cook Inlet salmon. Fish under consideration include the late-run king salmon and sockeyes, the two fisheries causing the most turmoil on Kenai Peninsula this summer, but silver salmon may get the most attention.

King runs have been poor in some parts of Alaska and Cook Inlet is no exception. Cook Inlet’s east side set netters, who fish for sockeyes but also catch a few kings in the process, have been beached since fishing started in June. A petition from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association to close the fishery through Aug. 12, the end of the late king salmon run, is before the board. About 20 percent of the king run is expected after July 31.

Last Thursday, the board, in another emergency meeting, from set netters in the region. In a 5-to-2 vote, the board decided not to take emergency action, favoring a measured approach instead.

Three of the four petitions under consideration Wednesday address the management of other Northern District-bound salmon, including silvers. The petitions note that some silver salmon stocks have been teetering as badly as the Kenai kings, perhaps worse.

For the last three years, for instance, Little Susitna River silvers have failed to meet escapement goals. If escapement isn't met this year, the fishery will be classified as a stock of concern, according to a petition from Andy Couch, Mat-Su fishing guide and Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee member. Yentna River sockeyes, which also are caught by Cook Inlet drift netters, are already considered a stock of concern.

Mat-Su’s two biggest silver runs -- just cranking up this season -- have both seen precipitous declines, reaching a low ebb last year:

The Little Su is down 74 percent in three years to just 4,826 silvers counted last year. The Deshka River is down 73 percent in two years to 7,508 silvers passing the weir last year. Couch notes that as fisheries managers push drift nets out into Cook Inlet and away from the Kenai River in an effort to protect Kenai kings, that affords the Kenai harvest a higher priority than fish headed to the Mat-Su.

When given management flexibility, as the board has tried to do numerous times, ADF&G managers have a long record of disregarding or exploiting loopholes to expanded commercial salmon harvests at the expense of North District salmon stocks and users,” he said.

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