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Board of Fisheries reviews upper Copper River finfish issues

Several dozen proposals, including some that would restrict commercial fishing in Prince William Sound and the Upper Copper River, are before the Alaska Board of Fisheries Dec. 2-7 in Valdez.

Of particular concern are proposals 43, 51, 93, 96, 114, 115 and 118, said Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United, which is dedicated to preserving, promoting and perpetuating commercial fisheries Area E.

Proposal 43, proposed by the Prince William Sound Charter Boat Association, would prohibit commercial bottom gear within three miles of shore in Prince William Sound between May 15 and Sept. 1.

Many fishermen longline for halibut in May, fish for salmon in June through late July, then return to fish for halibut in late July and August.

The charter boat association maintains that current commercial bottom gear use during the peak sport fishing season has caused a depletion of fish resources for sport anglers. Sport anglers and subsistence users would benefit, while commercial fishermen would be slightly inconvenienced, the proposal argues.

McCune disagrees. He said the proposal, which is opposed by CDFU and United Fishermen of Alaska, would affect about 50 commercial harvesters, about 10 percent of the fleet. "It may be all of their harvest if they can't get out in the ocean and fish," McCune said.

Proposal 51, proposed by Howard Delo, calls for a review of Copper River District salmon subsistence fishery custom and traditional subsistence uses of fish stocks and amount necessary for subsistence uses. Delo's proposal argues that without the review, in many peoples' minds an inequality of how subsistence personal use fisheries are classified in and around the Copper River will continue to exist.

In March 2010, the fisheries board defined a subsistence way of life as one based on consistent long-term reliance on fish and game resources for basic necessities.

The board also reviewed the Chitna dipnet fishery and voted to continue it as a personal use fishery. The board did not feel the fishery rose to the level of being a subsistence fishery.

This proposal was opposed last year because there was no new information and there is no new information now, McCune said.

Proposal 93, another effort to increase sport fishing opportunity for coho salmon, would closed five areas of Prince William Sound to seine fishing for pink salmon to protect coho salmon for sport fishing. CDFU also opposes this measure.

Proposal 96 would close commercial salmon fisheries in Main Bay of Prince William Sound over the Independence Day holiday to give preference to sport fishermen, to avoid conflicts between commercial and sport harvesters. The proposal sponsor, David Lofland, argues that no one would suffer if the proposal passed and there would be red salmon there for the commercial fishermen after the holiday. McCune notes that in fact the July 4 holiday is when the peak of the sockeye salmon run comes in to Coghill and Main Bay, "and if there are surplus fish, we should be able to fish."

Proposal 114, from the Eastern Interior Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, and Proposal 115, from the Fairbanks Advisory Committee, both propose reduced hatchery chum production in Prince William Sound, to reduce competition for wild chum salmon bound for Alaska rivers.

The fisheries board does not, in fact, have authority to set hatchery production, McCune said. That authority is vested with the state commissioner of fish and game.

Proposal 118, also from the Fairbanks Advisory Committee, would restrict commercial fishing inside the Copper River Flats before June 15.

For commercial harvesters fishing the famed Copper River sockeye fishery, fishing inside the barrier islands is the best place to fish, McCune said. Passage of this proposal would take the gillnet fishermen harvesting sockeye and king salmon off the grounds where they have been fishing for over 100 years, McCune said.

In the event of stormy weather, as was the case this year, the drift gillnetters would have nowhere else to go, he said.

You can reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at

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