FAIRBANKS -- The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted to prohibit subsistence and commercial fishermen on the Yukon River from using gillnets with a mesh larger than 7.5 inches, an effort to help rebuild the king salmon run.
Most fishermen on the Yukon use nets with 8.5-inch mesh to target big kings.
The goal of the regulation, which takes effect next year, is to allow more of the larger king salmon to spawn.
The Yukon River chinook run feeds the largest subsistence fishery in the state. It has shrunk in recent years. State fish managers have not allowed any commercial fishing the past two years and subsistence fishing was cut in half this past season.
Alaska fish managers also have failed to deliver enough king salmon to Canada two out of the past three years, as specified by an international treaty. Studies show most of the big fish in the chinook run are bound for Canada.
The decline in the chinook run prompted several advisory committees on the upper Yukon to propose a 6-inch mesh limit, which they said would allow more big fish to reach the border. The board amended that to a 7.5-inch requirement and voted 6-1 Sunday for the change.
Studies presented to the seven-member board last week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game showed the size and number of big kings are declining, and bigger nets target bigger fish.
Board member John Jensen of Sitka, who has been on the board for nine years and has twice voted against mesh size reductions, said it was time to do something.
"This will be a hardship on people (who have to buy new nets), but it's going to be a lot harder on people if these fish disappear," Jensen said.
Fairbanks board member Janet Woods, a Native who grew up in the Yukon River village of Rampart, was the only no vote.