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Nope, sorry. Alaska's Board of Fish process is actually broken

  • Author:
  • Updated: June 25, 2016
  • Published March 30, 2016

I agree with Karl Johnstone fully when he said in a commentary (ADN, March 16), that the Alaska Board of Fisheries process could be a very valuable public process for various user groups to express their concerns and opinions regarding the management of their fishery of interest. However, the appointed board members are so politically polarized that "Fish First" policies in regards to implementing allocation and management objectives are blatantly disregarded. I would like to walk the public through a recent decision made by our Fish Board that goes against every state, federal subsistence, scientific, sustainable yield policy ever created to manage any migratory salmon stock.

The board's recent decision to expand the Outer Heiden Section of the North Peninsula, Area "M," intercept salmon fishery was just an outright allocation deception.

The Native Village of Port Heiden is attempting to build a small fish-processing plant in its community, but has no salmon resources. Outer Port Heiden has been open to commercial salmon fishing since 2009. I think Johnstone was part of this board directive to open up a known intercept salmon fishery in July to control escapement in the Meshik River (Port Heiden) which predominantly occurs in June.

During the 1990s several research studies clearly showed a high percentage of Bristol Bay stock intermingling with North Peninsula stock during July (Swanton, Murphy, 1991: Greiger et al., 1989, 1995). However, the board did not have confidence in stock identification just using scale-analysis methodology. Interception concerns by Ugashik fishermen and other Bristol Bay were dispelled as nonconclusive. In 2012, along comes DNA stock-specific identification mythology and Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Program results. Alas, good nonstatutable data that showed interception of Bristol Bay-bound sockeye in Outer Port Heiden Section of the North Peninsula to be 70 to 90 percent. These stocks were predominately headed to the Ugashik and Egegik Rivers.

With this new data, the 2013 board acknowledged there is a problem with compliance with the state of Alaska, Fish Board, Mixed Stock Policy 5 AAC 39.220 (d), and reduced the area of Outer Port Heiden to 1.5 miles from shore. To demonstrate to the 2016 board the intercept rate inshore is also substantial, the BBEDC commissioned the University of Washington to study the problem. Boatright et al., 2016 studied the stock of origin and inception ratios of Bristol Bay-bound sockeye within the 1.5 mile corridor versus the recently closed area 1.5 miles to 3 miles offshore (2014-2015). This study showed the intercept rates of Bristol Bay-bound sockeye to be about the same in the open versus the closed areas on the average between 80 and 96 percent. Hence, the nearshore strategy did not reduce interception ratio of northbound sockeye in the total catch. Interception rates of up to 93 percent of Bay-bound sockeye were documented in the Outer Port Heiden Section within the 1.5-mile and 1.5-to-3-mile offshore corridors. Boatright documented less Bay-bound sockeye interception in the overall catch as the sampling moved south through the IInik, Sandy and Bear rivers fishing sections.

Now let's consider the subsistence concerns of the residents of Port Heiden who have documented through their annual Alaska Department of Fish and Game subsistence logs they have very diminished returns of all species of salmon since 2009. Many local Port Heiden residents testified before the board that even their minimal subsistence needs, let alone salmon for a small community processor, are not being met. These pleas of subsistence futility should have had priority over any other allocation directive considered by this Fish Board. By federal law and state statute, some form of conservation measures should have been adopted by the board to protect basic subsistence use priorities.

Unfortunately, there is more. Fish and Game area management conducted aerial surveys of the Meshik River and estimated there was an escapement of 147,000 sockeye (100,000 maximum goal) in the Meshik River tributaries in 2015. These three aerial surveys were conducted in 2015 with no weir, counting tower or actual river sampling data to verify the estimations. Excuse me, the reason the board opened Outer Port Heiden Section in 2009 was to control this escapement. Since 2009 it has not. Remember, it is hard to control a June escapement in July when Outer Port Heiden Section opens to intercept Bay-bound sockeye. In addition, if adequate escapements are being met, why are the subsistence nets empty?

With this overwhelming undisputable scientific data and documentation by local residents, guess how the board voted. Yes, more area, deeper nets (60 meshed versus 29.5 for Bristol Bay) and absolutely no compensation or concern for local subsistence needs or the excessive interception of northbound sockeye. Apparently the logic was if the Bay-bound sockeye interception rate is the same close to shore as offshore might as well expand the fishing district. Such rationale is absolute biological suicide considering the effectiveness of the deep gear. Watch the total sockeye catch in Outer Port Heiden Section double in 2016.

As an Ugashik fisherman, a proponent of self-sustainability of our coastal villages, and an ex-fisheries biologist, I think it is time for a non-Fish Board decision regarding the "Area M" North Peninsula salmon fishery. Bristol Bay fishermen already give a substantial portion of our annual sockeye run to Shumagin and June South Unimak fisheries. Why then do we have to keep being concerned about excessive interception issues on the North Peninsula. If Outer Port Heiden Section continues to be open to Area M, the Ugashik River, on small return years (like 2014), will not have enough sockeye over and above escapement needs for a commercial harvest.

The way this current board is structured (thank you, Gov. Walker), Cook Inlet user groups beware. "Concerned Area M Fishermen" probably will want to fish Lower Cook Inlet area to help you manage your escapement issues in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. If you think I'm kidding, just ask the Chignik fishermen.

In summary, it is way too quiet on the Cape when my concerned neighbors are hard at work controlling escapements in rivers the width of a brown bear.

Dan Kingsley owns and operates the vessel Cape Menshikof, harbored in Pilot Point.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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