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Cook Inlet East Side Setnetters Continue to Fight to Open Red Salmon Fishery

July 25, 2012|by Rhonda McBride | Channel 2 News

KENAI, Alaska — The Kenai River king salmon crisis intensified on Tuesday.  More than 200 setnetters, who work the east side of Cook Inlet gathered for another emotional meeting at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association offices on Kalifornski road.  

The parking lot was filled, and there was a long line of cars parked on the road.  The meeting room inside was overflowing.  People stood on the steps and outside the building. 

Although the setnetters weren’t carrying signs as they did in a demonstration at the Kenai park strip on Friday, they continued to air their frustrations about being shut out of a strong red salmon run for the sake of conserving king salmon, which are returning in record low numbers. 

The meeting was called by the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, which represents east side setnetters, who hold  more than 400 permits in the fishery.  They harvest salmon along with other users --  the commercial Cook Inlet driftnet fleet, charter operators, anglers and dipnetters. 

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 The setnetters compare their fishery to a family-run business and say the current closure will ruin them. 

Doug Blossom says four generations of his family have setnetted, going back to the territorial days. Today, about 70 members of his extended family depend on the income from setnetting.

“I don’t collect food stamps.  I don’t get anything free. I like to work for what I get. I have fished for 62 years. This year, they have broken me. That’s what’s pathetic,” said Blossom, who believes state fishery managers are over reacting to weak king salmon run.  

At the meeting, the board of the fisherman’s association gave a report on their meeting Monday with Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell and  Jeff Regnart, who is director of the state division of commercial fisheries.  

The board said it pushed for opening the fishery on a limited basis, but for now, the closure remains in effect indefinitely. 

During the meeting, fishermen continued to question the department’s sonar data and claimed they are unfairly bearing the burden of King conservation, while other user groups are allowed to fish on an abundant red run.   

State fishery managers say that the driftnet fleet is less likely to catch kings, because they are based offshore, while the setnetters hang their nets from buoys close to shore,  where the king salmon swim in higher concentrations, using their keen sense of smell to guide them to their spawning grounds.  

The latest king salmon numbers,which are tracked by the department of Fish and Game’s sport fish division, show that they are still below the past two years. 

The setnetters may get relief from the state board of fisheries, which has announced an emergency meeting on Thursday, which will be held via teleconference at 8:30 a.m..  

According to the public notice, the board will not take public testimony.  There are listen-only sites at the following locations. 

-Juneau ADF&G Office, 1255 W. 8th Street, Commissioner’s Conference Room

-Kenai Legislative Information Office, 145 Main St. Loop, Suite 217

-Anchorage Legislative Information Office, 716 W. 4th Avenue, Suite 200 

-Mat-Su Legislative Information Office, 600 E. Railroad Avenue

-Homer Legislative Information Office, 345 W. Sterling Hwy, Suite 102A

During the meeting, the board will review a petition from the east side setnetters to open their fishery to sockeye salmon.  The petition says it’s necessary to keep sockeye salmon escapement within the range according to regulations the board has already set. 

Escapement is another concern of the setnetters, who say over escapement of the sockeyes will decrease the survival rate of smolts -- so they would not only lose out on this year’s reds but future runs. 

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