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Shannyn Moore: We can't save Kenai kings by destroying Cook Inlet setnetters

  • Author: Shannyn Moore
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published December 27, 2014

It's that time of year again. Top 10 lists for everything. Trust me. For some of them, I can't figure out how they came up with a top one, much less 10. I was going to piggyback on this cliche and give you my top 10 Alaska stories for 2014, but then I got a grip on myself.

You're welcome. I decided instead to look ahead at what will be a giant war in Alaska in the upcoming year. I figured maybe we needed to start rallying the troops to battle.

A few weeks ago, I went into town to shop for groceries. As I walked into the market, a man with a clipboard asked me, "Would you like to protect salmon?"

I flashed him the back of my phone, with its a well worn "No Pebble" sticker, like a badge of authority. He wanted me to sign a petition to shut down setnetters in Cook Inlet, which is apparently an experiment to let sportfishermen catch more kings on the Kenai River.

I asked the guy a few questions. Granted, he's paid to get signatures and isn't expected to know much beyond his "Protect the salmon" pitch, but he was truly clueless.

"What are you doing to shut down king salmon bycatch from trawlers?" I asked him. "Doesn't shutting down the trawlers make more sense? There've been years when the trawlers had more bycatch than subsistence users had quota."

He just blinked. I could see he was eager for me to get on with my shopping. Nope. Every minute I had his attention was a minute he wasn't tricking people into signing. Seriously, the organization behind the ballot measure is extremely connected politically, and yet their idea is so bad they're turning to the public to push it.

"Did you know the trawler bycatch of king salmon is used in Seattle-area food banks and shelters while Alaska subsistence users have been shut down?"

I could see I wasn't his favorite person right then.

"Why aren't you trying to stop the Chuitna coal mine across the Inlet? That's a river with all five species of salmon and they're going to REMOVE miles of it to take coal -- nature's water filtration system -- and then put the river back decades from now. You know, those salmon will just cruise around and wait for that to happen in 40 or 50 or a hundred years."

He said he hadn't heard about the Chuitna.

"The bycatch of setnetters isn't dumped. Those kings are sold or consumed by the fishermen. They aren't a lot of bycatch kings, but they help support Alaska families. In fact, they're almost 10,000 fewer than the number the Gulf of Alaska trawlers are allowed to dump. Their cap is 25,000 kings -- not pounds, 25,000 fish."

"How do you know?" he asked.

"I read. You should try it before you start asking people if they want to save king salmon. Why aren't you trying to save terapods, which are struggling to survive ocean acidification?"

Terapods comprise 40 percent of Pacific kings' diet.

Truth be told, my favorite part of childhood was growing up on a setnet beach at the base of Mount Redoubt on the west side of Cook Inlet. It was hard work and rustic living -- and not in a cute-little-cabin way. My family was there for months at a time. On Wednesday nights we ate canned Chinese food as a break from razor clams, halibut and salmon. Mom kept a log of how many brown bears we saw each day. When my appendix burst, I got flown to town. Setnetting was a family affair.

Maybe I'm biased. No, I'm definitely biased by that experience. It's not fair that a limitless number of fishing guides, who only have to take a five-day course to qualify to go into business, try to take away the ability of setnetters to fish. Setnetters spend thousands of dollars to get a permit and thousands more to buy gear. Are the guides going to reimburse the setnetters for their permits?

And when is the state going to limit the number of summer-only Alaskans selling the opportunity to fish for salmon to tourists from Texas?

Makes me miss the Pebble fight. Sports and commercial fishermen stood shoulder to shoulder on that one. Now we're back to scheming how to get the other guy's fish.

Do I want to save salmon? You bet. But anyone who thinks grabbing someone else's slice of a shrinking fish pie is the answer isn't as smart as the average king salmon.

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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