A New Paradigm: Salmon Task Force Meets In Soldotna

The Task Force organized in October to address issues related to the Department of Fish and Game’s king salmon management plan met for the first of four meetings Friday at Kenai Peninsula College.

The task force was put together in October, a result of one of the worst king salmon fishing seasons on record.  Chaired by Board of Fish members Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna and Vince Webster of King Salmon, the panel has one objective: to give the Board of Fish recommendations on possible changes to the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan before it’s meeting in March.  If nearly eight hours of discussion on just the first day of four scheduled meetings is any indication, that’s much easier said than done.  Webster summed up the panel’s purpose succinctly during a public comment period.

But before any recommendations were made, there was a lot of discussion about what information is necessary to make those recommendations, where it should come from and just how detailed it needs to be.  An early pattern in the discussion was whether concrete numbers regarding projected run strength, escapement and more, are even necessary; the argument being that whatever the management numbers come out to be, the problem of a fixed management plan persists.

Kevin Delaney is a biologist and the former Director Sportfishing for the Department of Fish and Game and now does consulting work, namely for the Kenai River Sportfishing  Association.  He said those numbers are important, but must be looked at in a broader context.

“There is uncertainty around everything we do.  Mother nature is not kind to our technology,” Delaney said.  ”Some days we are highly certain of what we’re assessing.  Other days, we’re operating in a fog, of sorts, only we can put numerical bounds around this fog.  That’s what statistics is all about.  I’ve always been (as a fishery manager) a person who embraces that uncertainty and tries to embody it in the plans that we make and the implementation strategies,” Delaney said.

Members of the force took turns at the microphone voicing concerns about data, how it’s gathered, what it means and how important it is to managing fisheries.

“I’m a builder, I like to work from the ground up (and) I’d like to start with the data,” said Rob Williams, President of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association and a member of the Task Force.  ”Our immediate worry right now is what happened in 2012, and then then other thing I think is important to understand is where do you draw the line between a few hundred king salmon short and not being able to harvest a million sockeye?  Who’s call is that…especially on these bumper sockeye runs?” Williams wondered.

Toward the end of the first days’ discussions, one thing was very clear.  We’re in a new paradigm of low king salmon abundance and that affects all user groups around the Kenai River.

“Like a good marriage, I think something like this needs compromise on both sides of the table,” said Task Force member Dennis Gease, who is representing personal use interests on the panel.  ”I’ve got friends on both sides of the table…and I’ve got some of those friends that say ‘we won’t give them a damn thing. They’re not taking anything from us, they’ve already got too much’ and that’s the wrong attitude.  We all have to come here willing to give up something or in the end, none of us will have anything,” Gease told the panel.

The recommendations and proposals put forth Friday will be reviewed and more time for comments about those and other ideas will be made at the next Task Force meeting December 14th at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai.