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At a Glance

'At a Glance' offers a brief summary of key findings for each of the 13 Alaska Salmon and People regions.

Dive Deeper

Select 'Dive Deeper' for an in-depth look into the patterns and processes leading to the diversity of the 13 Alaska Salmon and People regions we see today.

At a Glance:  A potential glimpse at Alaska’s future?

Home to over 60% of Alaska’s residents, the Cook Inlet region may provide a glimpse of the future. Issues of urbanization, road building, and the rise of invasive species are increasingly prominent here. These changes are set within a context of a changing climate and increased conflict among user groups for limited salmon resources.

Kenai Dena’ina names for salmon

łuq’a (salmon)

łuq’aka’a (king salmon)

k’q’uya (sockeye salmon)

nudlaghi (coho salmon)

alima (chum salmon)

qughuna (pink salmon)

Below is a summary of key SASAP findings for the Cook Inlet Region; for the full story, click on Take a Deeper Dive

A perennial management challenge in Cook Inlet is to maximize harvest opportunities on the more abundant sockeye and pink salmon, without over-harvesting coho or Chinook salmon.

Despite the increasing pressures by people on the landscape, the Cook Inlet region continues to produce millions of salmon each year. Sockeye salmon are most common, followed by pink salmon. However, the returns of Chinook salmon and coho salmon are vital to vibrant sport fishing economies and local cultures. Declines of Chinook salmon create a management conundrum: how can managers maximize harvest opportunities on sockeye salmon and pink salmon but not over harvest coho salmon or Chinook salmon? These challenges are nested into what is said to be the most complex management plan in Alaska. Though most of the fish in Cook Inlet are wild, hatchery enhancement of pink salmon is increasing after a period of decline.

Erik Schoen, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Though people-salmon relationships in Cook Inlet are often defined in terms of urban and political tensions, the region has deep-time salmon connections and subsistence practices persist.

Households in the Cook Inlet region rely on a variety of strategies for obtaining salmon to fill their freezers including recreational fishing, personal use, subsistence, commercial take, and sharing networks. Some of these strategies (sharing networks, traveling “home”) include direct connections to the salmon systems of other regions. The conflict over allocation in Upper Cook Inlet has arisen due to low Chinook returns and subsequent management decisions, creating discord within communities in the region. There are three distinct commercial salmon fisheries within the Cook Inlet region: Upper Cook Inlet Drift, Upper Cook Inlet Set Net, and Lower Cook Inlet Seine.

Personal use dipnetting at the mouth of the Kenai River. Photo by Kerry Tasker

The Cook Inlet region includes several small subsistence salmon fisheries and a growing personal use salmon fisheries, with most participants from urban areas.

This region has the most complex regulations for subsistence and personal use fisheries, reflecting the high human population. It is mostly within the Anchorage-Matsu-Kenai Non-subsistence Area where only personal use fisheries may occur. There are small state subsistence fisheries at Tyonek, in the Yentna River, at Seldovia, and at Nanwalek and Port Graham, and small federal subsistence fisheries in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. In 1996, the Board created fixed seasons and openings for the Kenai and Kasilof personal use fisheries; harvests in these fisheries subsequently grew rapidly–over 300% from the early 1990s to 2012-2016. From 1996-2016, personal use fisheries accounted for 97% of the total estimated noncommercial, non-sport salmon harvests.

Estimated Subsistence and Personal Use salmon harvests in the Cook Inlet, 1967 – 2016. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence. Subsistence and personal use harvest of salmon in Alaska, 1960-2012. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F18P5XTN.

Governance issues are numerous in this region and include “fish wars”, habitat impacts from urban development, and environmental impacts on salmon from coal and dam development.

As the most densely populated area of the state, residents are overwhelming participants in sport and personal use fisheries but there are also subsistence and commercial fisheries. A large majority of the citations issued for sport and personal use salmon violations are received by Cook Inlet residents.

Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishermen who fish in federal waters governed by the NPFMC brought suit against state and ADF&G management contending that salmon management here was not in compliance with federal standards, resulting in low returns.These fishermen prevailed, setting in motion a court-ordered process to bring state and federal management systems into alignment. Between 2000-2018, Cook Inlet salmon fisheries were declared a disaster on two occasions.

Upper Cook Inlet drift fleet. Photo by Erika Gavenus

Cook Inlet’s commercial salmon fisheries are the state’s third largest in value and extensive participation in personal use and sport fisheries underscore the political complexity of the region.

The potential for large revenue comes at a cost, because fishing revenue variability in this region has been greater than anywhere else in the Gulf of Alaska. Cook Inlet has the most diverse set of salmon users in the state, including commercial, sport, subsistence, and personal use fishers. Historically, the largest catch volume has gone to the commercial salmon fleet, followed by sportfish, subsistence, and personal use. Since 1995, the total volume of fish allocated to personal use, subsistence, and sport fishing has been relatively stable, ranging between 5 and 15 million lbs/year.

Tobias Schwoerer. Regional commercial salmon permit earnings by residency status, Alaska, 1975-2016. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F1WW7FZ2.

Percentage of annual salmon harvest in the Cook Inlet Management Area, by harvest category, 2010 - 2014. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence. Subsistence and personal use harvest of salmon in Alaska, 1960-2012. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F18P5XTN.
Salmon harvest in the Cook Inlet, by stakeholder group, 1995 - 2016. Jeanette Clark and Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Commercial Fisheries Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence. Harvest of Salmon across Commercial, Subsistence, Personal Use, and Sport Fish sectors, Alaska, 1995-2016. Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. doi:10.5063/F1HM56Q3
Case Studies

Participatory Planning for Potential Futures on the Kenai

By Meagan Krupa

The glacially fed Kenai River drains the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska in Southcentral Alaska. It runs 82 miles (132 km) westward from Kenai Lake in the Kenai Mountains through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Skilak Lake to its outlet into Cook Inlet. Its salmon-rich waters draw anglers from all over the world. Approximately 40 species of resident and anadromous fish live within the waters of the Kenai River and its tidal area. Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka), and coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) salmon are among the most commonly fished species.

To help address the future uncertainty of the Kenai River Fishery, a team of interdisciplinary researchers from the University of Alaska Anchorage developed a participatory research program called Salmon 2050. The program was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (#OIA-1208927) and the State of Alaska. Salmon 2050 analyzed biological, physical, economic, and social data to identify stakeholders and then worked with these stakeholders to produce five scenarios for the Kenai River Fishery.

The team utilized a research process called participatory scenario planning (PSP), which enables local communities to envision their response to future uncertainties through the development of scenarios. As PSP researchers strive to improve stakeholder engagement by increasing the legitimacy and transparency of the process, the initial identification of stakeholders has the ability to jeopardize or enhance the overall process.

Graph: Communication network for the elected officials of Kenai Borough.

(a) Person-to-person projection: Circles represent stakeholders and the lines connecting two stakeholders represent the communications. Interviewed elected officials are circles with dashed border. The node size is proportional to the node’s Eigenvector centrality and the same node color groups highly interconnected stakeholders into communities.

(b) Agency-to-agency projection: Network circles represent agencies and the lines represent people communicating across agency boundaries. The self-leading lines represent the communication patterns among multiple stakeholders belonging to the same agency. The node size and line thickness is proportional to the total number of communication exchanges.

The team discovered that Social Network Analysis (SNA) provides an efficient and transparent way to identify and characterize stakeholders for the scenario planning process (Krupa et al. 2017). SNA is the study of the relations between actors. It is a quantitative methodology that employs graph theory and sociograms to analyze and visualize social relationships, where nodes in the graph represent the actors (or sometimes other observations of interest, such as organizations), and the edges or lines between them represent their relationships.

After the SNA was completed, the team invited the individuals identified in the SNA to two PSP workshops to design the scenarios. Scenario development is one way that scientists can work with local communities to build a decision support tool that enables a diverse group of participants to step out of their usual management routines and identify pathways to achieve shared models of the future (Beach and Clark 2015). Scenario planning considers multiple plausible futures with multi-faceted variables that have high uncertainty. It links past and present events with hypothetical courses that examine the relationships of driving forces (Trammell et al. 2017). The goal of scenarios is to create more robust planning for events that may be unpredictable (Peterson et al. 2003, Ralston and Wilson 2006, Weeks et al. 2011).

The stakeholders produced five scenarios and identified six key future uncertainties, which were used to produce the table below (Trammell and Krupa, in prep.). The scenarios range from the Kenai River as a retirement community; an industrial area with a small fishery; a global fishing destination; small commercial and sport fisheries; to an entirely hatchery-supported local personal use fishery.





Given the future uncertainties, it is difficult to predict exactly how the Kenai River Fishery will look in the future. What is known is that the future will largely be the result of both the intended and unintended consequences of decisions that are made by communities. Therefore, local communities will benefit from thinking about the potential for change and how their actions today can lead them to a more desired future landscape.Scenarios Cross Comparison – This table shows how the narratives compare to one another in relation to the key uncertainties defined at the first workshop.


Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG). 2018. The Kenai River. Recreational Fishing Series, Division of Sport Fish, Southcentral Region, Anchorage, AK. Online:

Beach, D. M., and D. A. Clark. 2015. Scenario planning during rapid ecological change: lessons and perspectives from workshops with southwest Yukon wildlife managers. Ecology and Society 20(1): 61.

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA). 2015. Fry/Smolt Release Data. Online:

Krupa, M.B., M. Cenek, J. Powell, and E.J. Trammell. 2017. Mapping the Stakeholders: Using Social Network Analysis to Increase the Legitimacy and Transparency of Participatory Scenario Planning. Society and Natural Resources, DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2017.1376140

Peterson, G. D., T.D. Beard, Jr, B.E. Beisner, E.M. Bennett, S.R. Carpenter, G.S. Cumming, C.L. Dent, and T.D. Havlicek. 2003. Assessing future ecosystem services: a case study of the Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 1. [online] URL:

Ralston, B., and I. Wilson. 2006. The scenario planning handbook: a practitioner’s guide to developing and using scenarios to direct strategy in today’s uncertain times. Texere, New York, New York, USA.

Trammell, E. J., S. Thomas, D. Mouat, Q. Korbulic and S. Bassett. 2017. Using alternative land use scenarios to facilitate natural resource management across jurisdictional boundaries. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2017.1289901

Trammell, E.J. and M.B. Krupa. In prep. Participatory Scenario Planning on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

Weeks, D., P. Malone, L. Welling. 2011. Climate change scenario planning: a tool for managing parks into uncertain futures. Park Science 28(1):26-40.

Salmon Habitat, Development, and Management in Cook Inlet

by Steve Langdon

Meeting the State Constitutional requirement to manage for sustainable fisheries faces substantial challenges in the Cook Inlet region. Salmon habitats are potentially exposed to degradation through the development of roads, residential expansion and urbanization. These activities create substantial threats through culvert construction, stormwater run-off and wetlands destruction among other effects. There are laws and policies in place requiring permits for developments that affect salmon streams identified in the Anadromous Waters Catalog (AWC) maintained by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. However, many of the state and regions waters have not been examined concerning their status as anadromous habitat. Furthermore, there are ongoing changes to salmonid streams and habitats due to various environmental forces. The Mat-Su Watershed Council has developed a strategic plan to address key issues and has undertaken the challenge of mapping salmon habitat in the borough in an effort to improve the ability to protect those habitats. Borough zoning ordinances concerning types of stream and landscape impacts are limited in their attention to these matters. Incremental degradation that accumulates over the years is likely to pose major threats to sustaining Chinook, coho and possibly sockeye salmon stocks that are presently and have been for some years considerably below levels needed to maintain stocks at historically identified levels of abundance.

In addition to challenges to salmon sustainability from processes of settlement expansion, there have been two recent large-scale development projects proposed in the region both of which could potentially significantly impact Cook Inlet. On the west side of Cook Inlet, there are substantial coal fields that have received development interest for many years. Permits were sought for the Chuit Coal Mine in 2006 that would have rerouted a significant tributary of the Chuit River as part of project operations. The Chuit is a historically significant salmon river used by the Tyonek Athabascans who live nearby. It is a five-species river also accessed by sports fishermen. The Tyonek tribe organized a consortium of opponents to the mine and objected to permitting. In addition, they undertook research to document cultural uses of the Chuit River and submitted a successful application to have the river declared a cultural landscape. In 2017 Pacific Rim Coal development withdrew from the project.

‘The other major development project in the region is the massive hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River. Major planning for the proposed damming of the gorge in the upper portion of the river was begun in the 1980s. Project development under FERC by the state was suspended in the 1990s but resurrected again in the 2008. A coalition of environmental groups opposed the dam and Governor Walker vetoed the project in 2016. In both cases – the Chuit coal mine and Watana dam – a crucial issue was that project developers proposed mitigation of impacts on salmon stocks in the two rivers that would be damaged by the development would occur in other locations and regions.

Cook Inlet has long been a site of oil and gas developments with oil rig and pipeline structures moving extracted hydrocarbons from under the inlet floor since the late 1950s. Smaller spills and ruptures have periodically occurred causing oil spills in the inlet but to date no significant linkage of those incidents to short or long term impacts on salmon or their habitats. The Cook Inlet Citizens’ Regional Advisory Council is the certified entity authorized to maintain oversight of inlet hydrocarbon extraction and transportation.

Cook Inlet salmon fisheries have enormous demands for them and stresses on them. There have been recent initiatives to address the issues through new forms of organization. A stakeholder process organized under the UAA Epscor program brought together leaders and participants from many sectors in an effort to develop a plan based on jointly determined findings about status and impacts and necessary steps toward moving toward sustainability (Krupa et al 2015). In July 2018, Governor Walker convened a Cook Inlet Task Force designed to bring stakeholders together to share experiences and visions in order to find paths to common ground and shared commitments. He required that ADF&G fishery management biologists participate in the task force.

The management of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries has been challenged in state and federal courts. In 2013, the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund challenged the legality of state management of openings in terms of locations and timing of fisheries openings that led to massive allocation differences in Kenai River king salmon harvests between drift and set gillnetters. Due to concerns about low levels of king returns, ADF&G managers authorized more time for drift gillnetters due to their low incidental harvests of kings and cut back time of the set netters. The set netters sought an injunction that would require ADF&G to make decisions based on the management plan in place and asserted that ADF&G engaged in willful and negligent mismanagement. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court that found that the Commissioner (ADF&G) had not abused her discretionary authority and found in favor of the state.

The other significant case was brought by UCIDA in federal court in 2017. In that case the fishermen asserted the failure of the federal government to certify that state management of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries occurring in federal waters met the federal standards for sustainable management found in the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation Act. The fishermen were upheld on their appeal to the 9th circuit; the current status of the case is discussed at greater length in the governance overview.

Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishermen submitted materials in November 2018 seeking a disaster declaration for the 2018 fishery during which the harvest was about one-third of the ten-year average.


Braund, Stephen R. 1982.  Cook Inlet Subsistence Salmon Fishery.  Submitted by Stephen R. Braund and Associates to the Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Technical Paper 54. Anchorage.

Fall, James A.  1989. The Subsistence King Salmon Fishery at Tyonek, Alaska:  A Case Study of Alaska’s Subsistence Law. Paper presented at the Symposium on Indian Fisheries, sponsored by the Native American Fisheries Committee of the American Fisheries Society, Western Division.  Seattle, WA, July 1989.

Fall, James A., editor. 2013.  Report on Proposed Changes to Nonsubsistence Areas. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence Technical Paper No. 386. Anchorage.

Fall, James A. and Ronald T. Stanek. 1990.  An Overview of Subsistence and Personal Use Salmon Fisheries in the Cook Inlet Area.  A Report to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence.  Anchorage.

Loring, P. A., & Harrison, H. L. (2013). “That’s what opening day is for:” social and cultural dimensions of (not) fishing for salmon in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Maritime Studies, 12(1), (p. 12). Retrieved from

Loring, P. A., Harrison, H. L., & Gerlach, S. C. (2014). Local Perceptions of the Sustainability of Alaska’s Highly Contested Cook Inlet Salmon Fisheries. Society & Natural Resources, 27(2), 185–199.

Nelson, Dave, David Athons, Patricia Berkhahn, and Sandra Sonnichsen.  1999. Area Management Report for the Recreational Fisheries of the Kenai Peninsula, 1995-1997. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, Fishery Management Report No. 99-3. Anchorage.

Oslund, Samantha, Sam Ivey, and Daryl Lescanec.  2017. Area Management Report for the Recreational Fisheries of Northern Cook Inlet, 2014-2015.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Divisions of Sport Fish and Commercial Fisheries, fishery Management Report No. 17-07.  Anchorage.

Schoen, E. R. et al. 2017. Future of Pacific Salmon in the Face of Environmental Change: Lessons from One of the World’s Remaining Productive Salmon Regions. Fisheries 42, 538–553.

Stanek, Ronald T., James A. Fall, and Davin L. Holen.  2006. West Cook Inlet Ethnographic Overview and assessment for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence and National Park Service, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.  Anchorage.

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