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About Closing Fisheries to Protect Them;

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I stuck this on the thread on the forum, like many replies it ran a little longer than 50 words I thought it was worth saying so now there's a copy here too.

I think we can sum things up by saying that in some areas and specific waters it's a mess.

Education is a familiar refrain, been at the top of the charts for many years but honestly you can only educate the willing.

Regulations; there's another top ten favorite but for regulations to be effective people using the resource must read and understand the regulations.

Enforcement; the ultimate hot topic because of those who failed to read the regulations or those who intentionally don't give a dam. Like a city there can be logistical difficulties in law enforcement but unlike a city where there are sometimes hundreds or thousands of police officers often there are very few to patrol huge areas along rivers and creeks.

Here in Alaska enforcement is very difficult, a person so inclined can opt to ignore regulations at almost any time with no concerns of being found out. Rules, laws no matter how simple are often disregarded by people.

Why are fisheries Closed completely as opposed to being regulated with C&R rules and etc? Closed solves a distinct problem for law enforcement, if it is closed 100% then we needn't worry about whether people bothered to read the regulations. If it's closed and there are people there fishing it can be fairly assumed they will be violating the current law. That may sound harsh but that is what is required if you want an effect.

A few years ago when the State Dept. of Fish & Game was still in denial about the looming collapse of the King Salmon fisheries in this part of Alaska they enacted New Regulations regarding fishing for Kings. Among the changes were that the limit was reduced from 5 King Salmon per year to 2 King Salmon per year. That's 2 a year and if you take / kill a King Salmon you are not allowed to fish in any waters where salmon live in Alaska for the remainder of the day. One a day - 2 for the year, pretty straight forward I thought.

Another rule change / Regulation was the No Bait rule. Bait here consists of nylon sacks filled with the roe collected from last years Hen Salmon. For whatever biological reason they can't seem to resist grabbing a gob of eggs off the bottom...Ö. and so egg fishing is perhaps the most deadly means of catching Kings.

On one short morning I was just out scouting to see what the numbers looked like. I had driven about 15 miles up a river so that I could quietly float back down and actually spot and count fish. I like to know if there are fish before I would take anyone fishing so I was having a look. As I drifted into a really good stretch of water I saw 3 guys standing almost mid channel slinging hardware into the water. They were mid river so I paddled the boat behind them. As I drifted silently behind these guys I spotted 2 King Salmon on the shore to my left and at that point I stepped from the boat and grabbing the gunwale brought it to a stop.

Now one of those poor fish was still alive slowly twisting now and then, sand and small pebbles stuck all over its body and eyes, slowly just suffocating as it lay there in what I can only imagine is total misery even for a fish and I always hate to see that. Seeing that (the fish) tells me a lot about the people I am about to enter into an exchange with and I won't bore you with my thoughts on that. So I call to these 'Anglers / outdoorsmen / sportsmen', are these your fish?

The bottom man in the line says over his shoulder as he casts toward where a salmon just rolled, Yeah, why? I replied that "I see 2 Kings on shore and 3 men in the water fishing, 2 of you need to get the hell out of the water now". Now the guy in the middle of the line says, "why's that"? At this point I recite the regulations, sometimes this has an effect, maybe because I'm kinda older, maybe because the boat has those Dept. of Fish & Game decals on both sides, who knows but sometimes people listen to me.

So I tell them the rules and the guy from the middle position (they had all waded to shore at this time) the middle guy says, "I thought it was 2 a day". For real man! He thought the limit on King Salmon was 2 a day per person, unbelievable, right? I ask him where he was from and he told me "Palmer" and I ask, 'did you just move to Palmer'? To that he replied that he was born here! Now I had to keep this friendly but I couldn't help telling him that if you were born here then you should know that there has never been a 2 fish a day limit on kings in fresh water here.

So that guy had no clue and he was the group leader. Next I ask who had caught the fish and the other 2 took credit. I then ask if they had recorded them on their Harvest Cards. Harvest cards? I then explained that they were in a position where they could be fined $150 each for failing to immediately record the Kings and another $1000 for fishing after a King had been harvested. Throw in losing your fishing gear and license and it may pay to read and understand the regulations entirely and not to take someone else's word when it is you who will get the fines and lose the gear. Before I even got started on all that I ask that whoever had caught the suffering fish please kill it at that time and he did. I also told them how unnecessary and ugly it was to allow an animal to suffer like that.

I got back in the boat poled and paddled my way back to the current and drifted away. Not another mile down I come past some old fart (looked older than me) sitting in a boat soaking bait. I float slowly down to where he's at and as I pass he reels in the load, yep Roe Sack, and recasts. I called over to him, "There's a no bait reg here, you know that?" And for my trouble he gives me the finger.

Soon as I had a signal for a phone call I called a friend who got a Trooper down there within an hour to do a patrol of the river.

You can't educate that, you can't regulate that. If you want to protect a stream, river, fishery or specific species then that place must be closed to fishing. By doing so it becomes very easy to have enforcement. You check the boat launch or access parking areas. If there are 20 vehicles parked then the enforcement officers may be able to reasonably suspect that there will be people violating the closure rules.

I've seen enough here, I first lived here back in 1988 - 1990 and now have been in residence since 2004. This is all crashing down right before my eyes and I have no problem with seeing seasons closed entirely. Whatever it takes on land and at sea but you can't just stand by and watch the last Dodo killed here.

I've seen enough of people both residents and visitors trying to wring every single ounce of fish flesh out of this place that they can take that it makes me sick. I am proud to say that I became a guide & outfitter to offer people the chance at something which may in our lifetime become a thing of the past. No one killed a single fish, everyone abided by the rules and regulations set forth by the State and I do not feel responsible for what I see happening around me.


  1. Redrock's Avatar
    Ard, I read all of your posts because I think you have something to say and you are passionate.

    I fished Alaska regularly for a while, but not in the past decade or so. I followed the regs and numbers for a long time. I would be fine with full river closures, but I also think you have to address the commercial harvesters as well. I donít think the escapement numbers are sufficient.
  2. Ard's Avatar
    Hello Redrock,

    I don't know if you have found the opinion written here on the blog titled, 'An Inconvenient Possibility' I address commercial harvest there. However, I also took a look at the increase in population in South Central Alaska over the past 30 years which is dramatic itself and how that increase has put literally thousands more people on these rivers.

    I also detailed the disparity in numbers between our rivers and those flowing into the Bristol Bay. The commercial fishery in Bristol Bay is arguably the largest most robust commercial fishery within United States waters and the harvest weights are immense. Some how those rivers are maintaining the commercial fishery pressure, a simple look at the King Salmon returns on rivers equipped with counting technology supports this point. What the rivers of Bristol Bay do not have is a population approaching 500,000 people of whom a great many venture out to harvest some Alaskan salmon to take home.

    My suggestion or observation is that the failure to decrease the bag limit of salmon on the natal rivers in the face of a doubling of the number of residential anglers and commercial charter boats operating on these natal rivers has led to this current situation.

    Of course cutting the number of openings and hours for commercial fleet fishing in the Cook Inlet needs to go hand in hand with any other emergency efforts but I see a resident angling population who is willing to cast all blame for the falling numbers on the commercial fishermen and accept zero responsibility themselves.

    Another thing I intend to document in some measure is the demise of the commercial fishing efforts themselves. Like any other predator the commercial fleet grew during the past 30 years of boom but as fish become harder to find while operating costs remain the same and higher each year, fishing boats are dry docked in larger numbers reflecting the lack of prey species. Licensing, insurance costs, and crew costs continue to rise while the catch has shrunk dramatically in just the past 3 years.

    In the end it is the natal rivers that hold the key to any recovery and if we continue to kill the surviving adults the result will be that the numbers continue to decline.
  3. Ard's Avatar
    This was my original writing back in 2018 regarding the ongoing failure of salmon returns in South Central Alaska; An Inconvenient Possibility I've linked it here because it is buried back on page 3.

    As this year progresses I will try to ascertain current and projected conditions on the waters here and then author the findings into another layman's description regarding what I can see and learn .
  4. rfb700's Avatar
    I always enjoy reading what you've posted Ard. You're knowledgeable and passionate about the subject and to my mind, you're reasonable and open to the reality of what's happening with the fish we pursue. That's something that can't be said for many. I am no expert on the natural world, but I am capable of reading research papers and following the flow of current fisheries management strategies.

    There seems to be a disparity between the reality of our current situation and the steps being taken to preserve our resources. I get the political pressures to keep to fisheries open far longer than they should be or at least to enact drastic measures regarding harvest and enforcement, but the powers that be always seem to be a step or two behind in their efforts to effectively manage our wild stocks. We saw it with the Cod fishery in Canada where biologists were saying one thing and politicians were saying another. Jobs and votes were on the line so they held off until it was too late. The result is there is no fishery to speak of anymore and they don't know if what's left will ever recover.

    In my little neck of the woods, southern Ontario, Brook trout streams are down to 12 percent in good shape and the rest split evenly between degraded or totally wiped out. Streams I've known since my childhood no longer exist as wild trout streams.

    Not all of this is, or even the majority of this is, the fault of fishermen. But as you have pointed out we play a part. Sometimes a fairly large part. And it's our inability to agree that there even is a problem or that we might have to take drastic steps to solve it that I find most disheartening.

    The consensus among conscientious biologists is that we're headed into another mass extinction, a vale of biological impoverishment commensurate with the big five extinctions in human history. Think extinction of the dinosaurs big. I think we're too far down the garden path to change course but I still hope, faintly. But when we've started to have fish die offs in streams off of Hudson Bay it makes you wonder if anything is safe.

    I type this not to be of any help, but to say I hope you find some solutions in your part of the world. And to ask if there are any agencies that take donations that might make a difference in lobbying for change or in restoration efforts. I will never fish for wild salmon in Alaska but it does my heart good to know they are still there.
  5. Ard's Avatar
    Very well said my friend.

    About NGO / NPO's that are trying to help? I am underinformed in this theater of action but do know that the Nature Conservancy is involved in a co-op arrangement with the state. Their primary focus has been the reconstruction of tertiary roads where they intersect natal & nursery streams. The project has removed sluice pipes that channeled the streams under small earthen bridges. In the Mat-Su Valley there were hundreds of these which have been made during the past 35 years due to development in previously undeveloped areas.

    Typical underpass type channeling had one goal and that was to build a road over a stream and to channel the water beneath the new road so that the road was safe. There was little to no initial thought to whether or not the pipes would be passable to small Sockeye & Coho salmon parr fish. Those fish spend as long as 1 1/2 years in the nursery waters before migrating to sea. So many miles of nursery waters were eliminated from the environment that after a few decades had passed the numbers of fish began to drop significantly and people on a whole were clueless as to the cause.

    If you think of it, how many times have you seen a small stream pipped or otherwise channeled under a road where there is a small water fall formed on the downstream side of the flow? In these small streams in Alaska the baby fish historically were able to spread out over the entirety of the watersheds capable of supporting and nurturing growing salmon fry. Slowly and surely streams were interfered with by development and by the time agencies discovered species in decline the damage was done.

    Anything that impedes a salmon's ability to complete the migration which precedes reproduction will become a limiting factor in the future populations. Whether it is a stream they can no longer access or whether it's humans who remove them from small streams where they are most venerable, or if it comes down to the fry having insufficient habitat to grow in it all combines to form a dark picture.

    Another problem we have here that is somewhat unique to Alaska is that many small streams are used as a place to raise hell using off road vehicles. 4 wheelers and now Side X Side ORV's actually use stream beds as roadways because they provide a means to explore into areas where trees and vegetation in 'The Bush' prevent travel otherwise. This unbelievably is still a growing problem. "Mudding" as it is widely known is one of the most destructive things that people do here. We have a segment of the growing population who look at a small stream and they don't see what you or I may see. They see a challenge of another kind. They see a "wonder if I can make it up that" situation. They travel in groups so that if one gets stuck in salmon habitat the others can use wenches to get them out and continue on.

    From passive destruction like an access road to someone's new 100 acer of land to groups of hell raiser's taking glee from tearing things up with ORV's these small nursery streams have been devastated for the past 35 years and it is ongoing as I type.

    Yeah commercial fishing kills tons of fish every year but it is here on the land not on the open ocean that people can really make a difference. Whether that difference produces a positive or negative yield is a matter of doubt. The actions of conservation agencies and many hands volunteering on restoration works can be upended by a very few who may or may not fall into that category of ignorance. That which Jesus Christ excused as he hung dying on that cross so long ago, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" . Some do not know, some do not care, while some try to rectify the sins of the past some seem to work to undo the future.
    Updated 01-30-2019 at 03:22 PM by Ard