Low King Salmon Numbers Stirs Tension among Fishing Groups & ADFG

The fight for salmon along the Kenai River has been getting more attention after a group representing the setnetters filed a lawsuit last Wednesday against the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) over how it managed the 2013 sockeye salmon run.

The Kenai King Conservation Alliance has requested to intervene in the lawsuit, saying it wants to protect king salmon that are caught by setnetters through bycatch.

"Once they're gone, they're gone forever," said Bob Penney, founder of the Kenai King Conservation Alliance. "The East Side setnetters catch the kings whether fishing for reds."

The Cook Inlet Fisherman's Fund accused the ADFG of unfairly targetting setnet fishermen for a closure during the 2013 sockeye season while other fishing groups were allowed to fish.

Adolf Zeman, an attorney representing the Cook Inlet Fisherman's Fund (CIFF), said his clients believe they were singled out.

"They feel that they're being singled out in terms of all the user groups. When other groups are out fishing, our folks are sitting on the beach watching," Zeman said.

CIFF says its setnetters lost thousands of dollars during closures in 2012.

In response, the ADFG told the court that CIFF has not demonstrated that its members will suffer irreparable harm and should not be granted an injunction blocking the department's actions.

Jeff Regnart, the Director of Commercial Fisheries for ADFG, said the department will stand by its actions.

"[Cook Inlet] is one of the more complex fisheries that we deal with as far as salmon in the state of Alaska. That local staff is making decisions daily based on all the available information that comes in and following the various guidelines that the board regulations, meaning the board of fish, which sets the regulations for management of this fishery," Regnart said.

The superior court will hold a hearing on the issue next week and will consider all pleadings, filings and testimony before making a decision.

Regardless of the outcome, all groups have agreed they want to see the king salmon numbers thrive.

Contact Samantha Angaiak