Months after the issue was first raised, the state Board of Fisheries made a decision on setnet sites affected by erosion.
In December, Bristol Bay setnetters went to the board looking for help after erosion had taken its toll on boundaries at their commercial fishing sites. And on March 11, at its statewide meeting and the final regular meeting for board members Fritz Johnson and Bob Mumford, the board agreed to adjust the lines as requested by the affected fishermen, with some modifications.
That came after several rounds of discussion and public testimony, and adoption at the board's last meeting of new criteria to guide decisions on proposals spurred by environmental change.
Board member Orville Huntington, of Huslia, said the board had developed a good set of criteria for vetting both of the proposals.
"The criteria developed, and the way we went about looking at each other's arguments, I think it's a good process," he said. "I can remember the horror stories of my elders when the federal managers would come in … it was just horrible, and now we've moved to a good building relationship with the state of Alaska."
The Armstrong family requested one of the changes, at Graveyard Point where the family has fished for decades, but recently learned that their historic site was beyond the bounds of the legal Naknek-Kvichak fishing district.
This summer, that site will once again be legal after a 6-1 vote to adjust the boundary there.
Board member Bob Mumford was the sole 'no' vote.
"Part of the cloudy area in my mind is the impact it may have down the beach," Mumford said. "… I know scooting lines around can seem pretty innocuous, but it can be more profound than we think sometimes … I'm more comfortable leaving it as is and letting them adapt a little bit."
Johnson, of Dillingham, said he supported the change, in part because decades of fishing passed before the family was told that their site was illegal.
"It was only recently that this gear and this site was removed from the water. I think that history really counts for a lot," Johnson said.
At Clark's Point, the mud flats have filled in, reducing the fishing time for several sites. This summer, the board will allow set-netters there to put their nets farther out into the ocean, restoring some of the fishing time that has been lost over time, although they'll still have to ask the state Department of Natural Resources to change their leases, too.
Speaking in favor of the proposal, Board member Sue Jeffrey said it appeared to address all of the new erosion criteria the board had adopted in late February.
Mumford said that while he was concerned about the regulatory process having the potential to harm some fishermen while helping others, he thought the Clark's Point proposal was thoroughly vetted.
"I'd like to applaud the proposer, it sounds like she's contacted a lot of the users, I think you've done a really good job doing your homework and bringing it to us," Mumford said before adding that he'd have to reluctantly vote in favor of the proposal.
Johnson said he was also comforted that changes to the sites would still go through the Department of Natural Resources shore lease program.
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.