Board of Fisheries Update: Setnetters’ fishing time for sockeye may depend on strength of king run

The Alaska Board of Fisheries hammered out a Kenai River king salmon fisheries plan that left the setnetters looking at possibly having only 12 hours of fishing time per week for sockeye depending upon the strength of the king salmon returns.

Under what is being called “paired restrictions,” when the in-river king salmon fishermen are restricted to catch and release, the restriction to 12 hours kicks in.

Those hours do not have to be consecutive, but they cannot take place during the 36-hour “window” from Thursday at 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. Saturday, a closure designed to allow in-river opportunity for sport fishermen and dipnetters.

What the board did not do was provide protections for king salmon by banning barbed hooks or fishing in spawning beds, or any other in-river measures such as limiting use of motorized boats or hours commercial guides can operate.

The board deliberated on barbless hooks Wednesday evening, and it looked like they had the votes to pass the barbed hook ban, but Chairman Karl Johnstone tabled it until Thursday morning, during which time board members who were leaning that direction were subjected to heavy lobbying by the sport fishing industry, and it failed.

Up-river king salmon spawning bed protections in the Kenai River failed when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game testified that some of the better spawning beds were below the bridge in Soldotna, although that did not explain why the shallower beds further up the river do not merit protections.

Thursday afternoon and Friday morning were taken up with permit stacking and changing the hours of the setnet fishery.

While fishing two permits on one drift boat is currently allowed, giving the boat one extra 50 fathom shackle of gear, those permits have to belong to two different people under current regulation. Some proposals would prohibit permit stacking altogether, and others would allow one person to own both permits.

Setnetters are seeking to change their hours of operation for regular periods from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., allowing for two full tides and allowing them to get their nets in during slack water.

Setnetters are also trying to convince the board to eliminate the so-called “one percent rule,” which shuts their fishery down in August after two consecutive openings fail to catch one percent of the season total to date.

That rule eliminates harvest opportunity for pinks and chums which have gained in value in recent years and help make up for the restrictions on sockeye catches due to king salmon conservation efforts.

Although the board is now operating as a committee of the whole, they are not taking any more votes until they begin final deliberations on Wednesday or Thursday, so it is difficult to know how things will look for the when it all shakes out.

Cristy Fry writes the Seawatch column for the Homer News. Cristy Fry has fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at