AP, KTUU Staff and Merill Sikorski, KSRM Radio
5:09 PM AKDT, July 22, 2012
Commercial setnet fishermen rallied at a park in Kenai on Friday, and then took to the streets to protest fishing closures aimed at protecting king salmon.
Nearly 200 people took part in the rally -- the same day that Gov. Sean Parnell announced that a team of top researchers and scientists is being formed to take a comprehensive look at why king salmon returns to Alaska's rivers are dismal again this summer.
In Kenai, a steady stream of people took their turn at the microphone, with many questioning politics and biological management of king salmon.
They also called for more attention to the Cook Inlet, as commercial setnet fishermen and in-river sport fishermen face unprecedented closures.
Former Lt. Governor Loren Leman stood in the crowd.
"I've been fishing, setnetting for 54 years. I've never seen anything like this. There hasn't been a season like this," said Leman.
Leman believes the state needs to develop hatcheries to fill the Kenai River with more king salmon. He also says more attention needs to be paid to trawler bycatch out in the ocean.
"Trawlers take 40,000 to 100,000 juveniles a year. Their fishery needs to be run cleaner. I believe the technology is in place to do that," says Leman.
The mayors of the City of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula Borough were in Anchorage Friday morning to meet with Governor Sean Parnell, to talk about the impact of the failed king run.
"Financially, it's huge," said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter. "Most of the setnetters, probably over 80 percent, actually live on the Kenai Peninsula, or live in the state of Alaska. So for them, that's their income for the entire year."
Porter says she understands why the setnetters are so emotional.
"It goes back four, five, six generations of people who have setnetted their whole, entire life. It's part of their family tradition to do that. It's such a pride of ownership, pride of living in Alaska and being able to work those sites," said Porter.
Kenai Borough Mayor Mike Navarre says there also worries beyond the kings, that too many sockeyes may crowd the spawning grounds.
"If they allow overescapement of sockeyes, it has impact not only for lost opportunity to harvest this year, but into the future it could depress those stocks in future years."
For now, state fishery managers have liberalized opportunities to catch sockeyes in the dipnet and sport fisheries, but the mayor of Kenai says that won't make up for the fish the setnetters would have caught, upsetting the balance of the river.
Copyright © 2013, KTUU-TV