Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young is looking to add a subsistence representative to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as part of the pending changes during the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
The act provides the basis for federal fisheries management throughout the country, including between three and 200 miles offshore from Alaska. It was last updated in 2006, and is set to be reauthorized this year. A draft version, with changes, was released by the House Natural Resources Committee in December.
Generally, Young told the Journal in January that he isn't looking for major changes beyond that draft.
"I think there's going to have to be, on the council, a subsistence representative, primarily because of the conflict of the king salmon," Young said.
Young said that while the trawl fleet's bycatch is not the only issue facing Alaska's salmon, it would help to have a perspective on the council other than commercial stakeholders.
A designated subsistence seat would not be a Community Development Quota group seat, Young said. CDQ groups include six organizations representing 65 Western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of all federal fishing quotas, including pollock, halibut and crab.
"CDQ is different," Young said.
The current chair of the council is Eric Olson, who works for the CDQ group Yukon Fisheries Development Association.
The council is the body that makes management decisions for federal waters offshore from Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, is responsible for overseeing day-to-day management and implementing most of those decisions.
Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said he supported adding a subsistence voice to the council.
"The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is stacked high with industry," he said.
AVCP members live along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, which have some of the major salmon concerns in the state. Young said he thought some commercial fishermen might not support the idea, however.
"It may not fly because some of the commercial fishermen I know would object to it," he said.
Bob Alverson, general manager for the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners Association, said he could see why Alaska would want that representation. Alaska is a unique state in regards to subsistence, he said.
"It's part of the lifestyle, I don't think that's out of line," he said.
There's concern about how an additional Alaska seat would shift the balance on the council, however.
Currently, Alaska controls six of the 11 voting seats. Alaska's governor nominates individuals for five seats, and there is a designated seat for the Department of Fish and Game commissioner, currently Cora Campbell.
A seventh Alaskan is Jim Balsiger, who is the designated federal representative as Alaska Region director for the NMFS. Washington has three seats and Oregon has one.
Some Washington stakeholders have already said Alaska has too much power on the council under the status quo, and their congressional delegation wouldn't support another Alaska seat on the council, Young said. He doesn't think the balance is a problem.
Alverson said that if an Alaskan subsistence seat was added, Washington might want a seat of its own, or a provision that Alaska couldn't use its supermajority to determine certain allocation issues.
Washington's governor currently nominates two members, and a third seat is held for a top Washington fisheries official. Adding another Washington seat to balance an Alaska subsistence seat would bring the total number of voting council members to 13.
Alverson said that number likely wouldn't be too many. He said he works with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has 14 voting members and still functions.
The Pacific council also has a Tribal government representative as one of its voting members.
Naneng said that a subsistence voice would be particularly helpful in discussion about bycatch. Currently, in-river fishermen face the largest burden of conservation at times when king salmon stocks on several western Alaska rivers and streams, including the Kuskokwim and Yukon, are low.
Naneng said a subsistence representative could ask more questions about the king catch in the ocean, and raise concerns about whether or not the current observer program and caps are being implemented effectively.
Sen. Mark Begich, who serves on the Senate's oceans subcommittee, agreed that Alaska needs a way to include subsistence voices on the council.
"Over the past year I have held four listening sessions on the Magnuson-Stevens Act all across the state -- including two with subsistence users -- and one thing came through loud and clear: Alaska Native people want a stronger voice on subsistence issues that come before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council," Begich said in an statement provided by email. "We are looking at options available now and hope to move some recommendations forward through the MSA reauthorization process."
The Alaska Federation of Natives has also asked for a new seat on the council.
In a resolution passed in 2013, AFN asked for a voting Tribal representative on the council that is nominated by Alaska's Tribes, for subsistence to be added throughout the MSA, and for other changes that would give more weight to subsistence in the federal management process.
Yukon River changes
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is not the only place Young said he would like to see changes.
He also wants a Yukon River salmon management body with representation from villages along the river that "has bite," he said.
That could be done as part of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, which is up for negotiation next year.
Currently, the Yukon River Panel makes Yukon recommendations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. That body makes some recommendations, but much of the management is split between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, depending on the location, in Alaska -- and to a Canadian subcommittee and management entities for Yukon Territory.
Young said the new body would include one member for each village along the river.
Those are the people dependent on the river, and most affected by the declining king runs there, he said. Naneng said he supported giving communities along the Yukon more of a say in how that river is managed.
Such a change would likely result in better buy-in from villages when there is a conservation concern, he said.
People who live along the river year-round could also add observation and environmental impacts to the discussion that are not considered by seasonal fishery workers, Naneng said.
In 2012, AVCP developed a resolution creating the Yukon River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commissions that would include representatives from all Yukon communities. In 2013, AFN passed a resolution asking those involved in Yukon River management to fully recognize and work with the fisheries commissions. AFN also called for the State of Alaska to provide funding for the commissions, and share scientific and historic data.
By Molly Dischner
Alaska Journal of Commerce