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Cook Inlet issues set to dominate Fish Board work session

Molly Dischner

Agenda changes, chinook research, and stock of concern statuses are up for discussion at the state of Alaska’s Board of Fisheries work session Oct. 9 and 10 in Anchorage.

The board has 21 agenda change requests, or ACRs, to consider, ranging from gear changes in salmon fisheries to a new herring designation.

Several of the agenda change requests ask the board to consider various Cook Inlet issues, which are not scheduled to come up under the regular, three-year meeting cycle until 2014.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, has said it would like to see all Kenai River king salmon issues considered, and submitted one of the proposals, but several other Cook Inlet groups offered only partial support for the taking up the controversial Cook Inlet issues out of cycle.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game submitted one of the proposals, which would allow the board to consider amending the Kenai River late-run and Kenai and Kasilof River early-run management plans to reflect new escapement goals for the 2013 season based on the new sonar counters.

The department prepared comments on the other ACRs, but did not offer explicit support for taking up other Cook Inlet issues.

KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the department’s comments were neutral at best.

“The Alaska Department of Fish and Game appears to be recommending against a full hearing of the Kenai River king salmon issues by the Alaska Board of Fisheries before the 2013 season. Such a decision is surprising, given the aftermath of the 2012 Upper Cook Inlet salmon season...” Gease said in a statement.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Lance Nelson offered the Department of Law’s opinion that two of the Cook Inlet suggestions were not actually ACRs. According to Nelson, an effort to declare early-run Kenai River kings a stock of concern is not a regulatory change, and would have to come from the board in consultation with ADFG, rather than the public.

A gear change for eastside Cook Inlet set gillnet permit holders could be beyond the scope of the board, according to the department, because it discusses fish traps, which are prohibited by state statute.

That gear change was proposed by Brent Johnson.

Kenai fisherman Brian Gabriel wrote in support of amending that to allow fishermen to submit their ideas of gear for testing. That could enable the fishery to find ways to harvest sockeye salmon without impacting kings, Gabriel said.

A group of eastside setnetters submitted comments opposing out-of-cycle consideration of Cook Inlet issues beyond ACR 17, the proposal to consider some Kenai-area escapement goals.

KRSA asked for a modification of the Kenai River late-run king salmon management plan, which was opposed in comments by United Fishermen of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, or KPFA, which represents setnetters.

United Cook Inlet Drift Association opposed most of the changes for that area, according to comments from Executive Director Roland Maw.

The drift association did agree with the premise behind further work to determine what personal-use fishery users were not submitting their permit information to the state at the end of the season, as proposed in ACR 18.

Pacific herring are also up for discussion. Subsistence user Aaron Bean submitted an ACR for the species to be designated as a forage fish under the Forage Fish Management Plan.

That proposal would close commercial herring fisheries statewide, according to comments from Fish and Game.

Herring were not included in the original forage plan, which mirrored a federal plan that also excluded them. The herring fishery is also a long-time commercial fishery, according to the department.

In comments on behalf of the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance, Executive Director Steven Reifenstuhl asked the board to reject the request. Herring fisheries are healthy overall, and increasing in biomass, Reifenstuhl said.

The Alaska Federation of Natives and Sitka Tribe of Alaska both submitted comments in support of the proposal, as did other individuals.

Fishing groups, including United Fishermen of Alaska and Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Association submitted comments opposing the designation.

Nelson’s department of law opinion said several of the proposals are not true ACRs because they address matters that could be considered on the agenda as-is. Those requests address gear for the Lower Yukon salmon fisheries, salmon seine gear measurements in the Alaska Peninsula area, changing the definition of salmon stream terminus statewide, and the commissioner’s salmon management authority in-season, each of which could be addressed at a meeting scheduled for this year.

The opinion suggests that if the board wants to consider the ideas in those proposals, it could do so by generating its own proposals. The date for public proposals has passed.

A change to the timing of when Pacific cod issues are discussed also would not be an agenda change because it isn’t a regulatory issue, but could be considered during the work session as miscellaneous business, according to Nelson’s opinion.

The Board will also hear from the Department of Fish and Game regarding stock of concern statuses in the fisheries it is set to discuss at its meetings this year.

In a Sept. 24 memo, the department recommended designating Swanson Lagoon sockeye salmon, in the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands area, as a stock of concern. The Swanson Lagoon Section was closed this summer to protect the stock.

For the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the department recommended that four salmon stocks retain their status. Those are Nome chum salmon, Golovin and Elim chum salmon, Shatoolik and Unalakleet king salmon, and Yukon River king salmon. The department did not recommend any additional designations in that region.

In Bristol Bay, the department is recommending removing stock of concern status for Kvichak River sockeye salmon.

The board will also discuss escapement goals for those fisheries.

A presentation on the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project is scheduled for Oct. 11.


By Molly Dischner
Alaska Journal of Commerce