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Biologists pledge better salmon counting in 2013

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Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 11:43 am | Updated: 12:06 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

WASILLA, Alaska — Wildlife biologists promise their efforts to revive the sinking number of king salmon will improve with planned updates to their fish counts, but area fishermen want information sooner than that.

The decline in king salmon has continued unabated for several years in western Cook Inlet and Matanuska-Susitna area rivers.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce reports (http://bit.ly/UZ0YH6) the poor returns have a dual impact: Fishermen and businesses catering to them are hurt financially, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game loses revenue from its tags issued for king salmon.

"We need some better information to understand why production is down and try to do something about it," said Bob Clark of the fish and game department.

The U.S. Small Business Administration made low-interest federal disaster loans available to small businesses financially hurt by this year's low summer king salmon runs after a request from Gov. Sean Parnell. Officials say assistance also is available to small businesses in areas neighboring the primary affected areas.

The poor king runs led to federal disaster declarations earlier this year for the Yukon-Kuskokwim area as well as Cook Inlet.

In 2011, the fish and game department set 17 goals for the number of king salmon that fish managers want to get upstream to reproduce. Twelve of those goals weren't met.

Fisherman Bruce Morgan said he sees a lot of reaction after fisheries don't produce as hoped or expected, and hears a lot of unknowns when the state talks about how to best manage the fisheries. But he wanted some concrete answers.

"I realize there's no silver bullet to cover everything, give me a little bit. Tell me, just tell me something," Morgan said.

Among the planned updates is a weir, or small dam, for the Little Susitna river. The weir will help track salmon and provide biologists with a clearer look at the fish population.

Most of the streams are assessed with aerial surveys, but a weir generally provides better data. The department is working on adding other additional weirs, including two in the Yetna River system, and two in the Susitna system.

There's also a new two-year project beginning to collect, organize and analyze local and traditional knowledge about Susitna River drainage king salmon stocks. Each of those efforts would better inform managers about the fish they're trying to apportion.

Jim Savage, from the Anchorage ADFG Advisory Committee, also asked managers to tighten restrictions on commercial fishing, believing that they're contributing to the lack of fish making it to the northern district.

"You can do all you want in the streams up here. but if they never get up here, what's the point?" Savage asked. "(It seemed like) last year, the drift fleet just ran amok."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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