Board votes 4-3 to limit Area M fishing

The state Board of Fisheries asked fishermen to compromise at its Alaska Peninsula meeting in Anchorage Feb. 26 to March 4.

The board was tasked with discussing changes to Area M fishing, at the far end of the Alaska Peninsula. Some proposals — seeking to limit fishing there — were put forth by area fishermen. Others were brought forward by fishermen elsewhere, as it is their belief that salmon caught in Area M are intercepted on their way to other fisheries.

The board agreed in a 4-3 vote to delay the opening of the June salmon fishery in the South Unimak and Shumagin Islands. That was proposed by the Southern Norton Sound Advisory Committee, although the proposal that passed was a compromise version amended by board member Vince Webster.

As changed, the setnet fishery will run from June 7 to June 29, and the purse seine and driftnet fisheries will be open June 10 to June 28.

Board members Sue Jeffrey, John Jensen and Tom Kluberton voted against the proposal.

The change is intended to allow more chums to travel out of Area M and toward the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Webster said he came up with the shortened fishing time as a way to meet the proposer’s intentions, but also respond to feedback from the fishermen.

The Norton Sound AC had asked for a longer delay.

Area M fishermen said that they have voluntary chum avoidance programs, and that those could be compromised by a regulatory avoidance plan. For example, if the length of fishing periods were shortened, they may not be able to move out of chum hot spots. They also talked about the economic hardships of loosing any fishing opportunity.

Board member Orville Huntington noted that there’s an area hardship up north, where the chums are headed, too, which is why he supported taking action.

“Gas up there is $10 a gallon. We have the same problems, schools are closing … These problems in Area M are not unique,” Huntington said. “All of us suffer up in Northwest Alaska.”

Board Chairman Karl Johnstone said he saw the amended proposal as a way to allow for both types of chum protections — the new ones, in regulations, and the old ones, which are voluntary. That’s because it didn’t shorten the length of fishing periods, just the number of them.

The board also considered a proposal that could have shortened the allowable mesh depth of set and drift net gear, but ultimately voted 5-2 against the change.

Webster and Huntington voted in favor of the change.

The Nelson Lagoon Advisory Committee had proposed the change, but withdrew its support because the board took action on another proposal that it felt addressed some of its concerns with fishing in the area.

That effort satisfied the AC’s concerns by creating rolling openings for commercial fishing, essentially creating a corridor along the beach for fish returning to area river systems. Local fishermen had testified about local fish being intercepted on their way back to spawn.

Webster said some fishermen still supported limiting the gear, and that there were still concerns about the fish in the area.

Kluberton noted that the board could consider further action at a future meeting, if that doesn’t do enough to help local stocks.

The corridor proposal was one of the main compromises to protect the fishery.

Other fishing closures, including an effort to limit fishing periods in Bechevin Bay, failed unanimously. So did some efforts to create more fishing opportunity, such as a proposal to open more of Grub Gulch and allow driftnetters in the Southwestern District.

Unalaska trawl compromise

The board considered a proposal to close Unalaska Bay to pelagic, or midwater, trawl gear. That was proposed by the Unalaska Native Fishermen’s Association, and received extensive public testimony.

Subsistence resources were one of the concerns raised. While the community is reliant on the fishing industry, several people said they couldn’t trade their subsistence needs for trawl landings.

Frank Kelty of Unalaska told the board that he had 350 signatures supporting the closure, while there were just 5 or 6 boats, and one company, opposing it.

Henry Mitchell, from Coastal Villages Region Fund, one of six Western Alaska Community Development Quota groups, said his company opposed a total closure, as the CDQ entity is already living up to past agreements designed to help mitigate trawl impacts.

Ultimately, the board opted for a compromise solution, to disallow trawl gear only in August.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, there were nine landings in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska from trawlers in August 2010, six in September 2010 and 1 in October. In subsequent years, August has continued to have the greatest number of landings.

The compromise is intended to help reduce trawling, but not eliminate it entirely.

Kluberton said that he reads about Dutch Harbor as being the biggest fishing port, and this step will put the area on a path to recovery. Jeffrey said she thought that it would also help with concerns about smaller skiffs having difficulty navigating around trawlers in the bay.

Jensen and new board member Reed Morisky of Fairbanks opposed the compromise amendment. The amended proposal, however, passed unanimously.

Permit stacking voted down

The board also discussed permit stacking in Bristol Bay, and upheld its decision in December not to extend it.

Ultimately, board members cited several reasons for their decision — including a desire not to have multiple permit structures in the Bay and concern over providing an equal playing field.

The proposal would have allowed permit stacking for setnetters in the Ugashik and Egegik districts, essentially meaning that two sets of gear could be used at one setnet site.

Stacking had been allowed at the previous meeting cycle, but with a sunset date. In December, the board rejected a proposal to repeal the sunset and allow stacking to continue. That was at the Bristol Bay meeting in Naknek. Then, the board brought the issue forward again at the Alaska Peninsula meeting as a board generated proposal.

Frank Woods, from the Ugashik Advisory Committee, said the committee discussed permit stacking several times and initially opposed allowing stacking. But now, Woods said, a bigger issue was that the proposal was being considered at the wrong meeting.

Kevin McCandley said he opposed stacking, as it could allow one family to benefit from the resources that are meant to be shared among several.

But some setnetters testified that stacking was necessary to make ends meet, and to preserve the fishery.

Eric Beeman from the Ugashik Setnet Association said there’s a concern that stacking makes permits leave the watershed, but that in reality, that is already happening, and stacking decreases it.

Larry Christensen, a long-time driftnetter in Bristol Bay, said he supported the proposal, even though he wasn’t a setnetter.

The board unanimously changed the dates of the state-waters sablefish season to match the federal fishing season, and set the regulatory season for black rockfish.

Now, the Aleutian Islands District and Western District of the Alaska Peninsula will open to state-waters sablefishing on the same date as the federal season, and close when the quota is caught, or the federal season ends.

Black rockfish was opened year round for the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands area, unless closed by emergency order. That’s what is done in practice now, but wasn’t specified in regulatory language.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].

03/06/2013 - 12:08pm