Chitina dipnet limit raised; other PWS changes rejected

CORDOVA — Chitina personal use fishermen will have an increased bag limit in 2015, one of just a few changes made at the triennial Board of Fisheries meeting for the Prince William Sound, Upper Copper River and Upper Susitna River region.

During its five-day meeting in Cordova, the board heard 57 proposals for changes to the region’s fisheries. The board made a few changes to area sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries, but declined to make significant changes to commercial salmon fisheries, saying the allocation plan is working.

The board voted 4-3 to allow dipnetters to take home 25 fish per permit, plus an additional 10 fish per household member. That matches the regulation for the Kenai River personal use fishery, although the two rivers have vastly different run sizes, a point that concerned those voting against the proposal.

Board members Fritz Johnson, Karl Johnstone, Tom Kluberton and Reed Morisky voted in favor of the change.

The change was proposed by the Chitina Dipnetters Association and the Fairbanks Advisory Committee.

Fairbanks AC spokesman Andrew Glasgow said the change is meant to help larger families. The old limit was 15 fish for a permit holder, or 30 for a household of two or more. Each household is limited to one permit.

Several other proposals from the AC failed, but Glasgow said that was the one his group was most interested in.

“Overall we were very happy with the general outcome,” he said after the meeting.

Copper River fisheries are managed under set allocations, and the board did not change the allocation for personal use fishermen, which is a range of 100,000 fish to 150,000 fish, so the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will still be expected to manage fishing time to hit that target range. From 2004 to 2013, the personal use fishery had an average harvest of 127,667 fish, according to information from ADFG.

Board member Johnson, from Dillingham, asked for reconsideration of the proposal at the very end of the meeting Dec. 7, but not enough board members voted to discuss changing the new regulation.

Johnson was concerned that the new Chitina personal use regulation provides more fish than the subsistence fishery on the Copper River flats. Local residents said that was inequitable, particularly because the board voted against providing certain openings for the subsistence fishery each year.

Despite that, Johnson was the only vote for reconsideration because the other members of the board said that fact had been raised during the meeting, even though it hadn’t necessarily registered with them. The standard for reconsideration calls for new information that was not previously provided.

Board member Kluberton, from Talkeetna, said he understood the local concern about the perceived disparity in regulations, but couldn’t vote for reconsideration because the issue didn’t meet the board’s standards. Instead, he would anticipate proposals addressing the issue at a future meeting, he said.

The subsistence proposal failed in a 3-4 vote, with board members Johnson, Sue Jeffrey and Orville Huntington voting in favor of it.

The board also gave ADFG the ability to limit king retention in the Glenallen Subdistrict subsistence fishery. That passed 6-1, with Huntington, considered the subsistence representative, voting against it.

Now, when fishery participants use fish wheels in the Copper River to catch sockeye salmon and other species, ADFG can set a bag limit on kings, requiring them to release any additional kings beyond the bag limit.

During the committee of the whole process, public testimony from fishery participants largely opposed the change. They said trying to get kings back out of the fish wheel or a live box could be unsafe, and that their cultural traditions oppose playing with food or releasing something once it’s caught. Huntington said he’d rather look at other options for conserving king salmon.

But other board members said it would offer ADFG an option other than just shutting down the fishery to protect kings.

“I think it’s good to have a fallback position,” Kluberton said.

The board also unanimously approved a few additional proposals, including a prohibition on fishing with bait for all drainages crossed by the Copper River Highway once the daily coho salmon bag limit has been reached, a change to allow rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and steelhead retention in a special management area at the end of the highway, and a prohibition on sport fishing within 60 feet of the Main Bay hatchery barrier.

Other changes proposed and rejected at the meeting included an increased bag limit for Arctic grayling in the Gulkana area, prohibitions on bait, barbed hooks and multiple hooks for the Upper Copper/Upper Susitna area, a king allocation for the Chitina personal use fishery, and a new, increased, escapement goal for Copper River kings.

Board decides against commercial salmon fishery changes

Nearly half of the proposals targeted commercial fisheries, but most of those failed.

Those addressing groundfish gained the most traction, and the board agreed to make the Prince William Sound Pacific cod jig fishery nonexclusive so that a fisherman could participate in the Prince William Sound fishery as well as one in another region. The board also increased the opportunity for pot and jig fishermen to participate in the Pacific cod fishery.

The board also approved two changes to bycatch limits requested by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. While proposals deal with the pollock fishery directly did not pass, the board said it planned to meet in October 2015 for a several day meeting focused entirely on state-waters pollock fisheries, and would consider them then.

The board did pass a proposal to allow monofilament nets in the gillnet fisheries briefly, but after a collective gasp from the audience and a brief break, the board voted unanimously in favor of reconsideration.

The new information according to member John Jensen of Petersburg was that although ADFG comments said the proposal would apply to both the set and drift fleets, it actually only allowed drifters to use the nets. That was enough to convince all seven members to vote against it.

The other salmon proposals, however, failed outright. Some were submitted by other users, seeking to decrease commercial fishing opportunity, such as a proposal not to allow commercial fishing until a salmon had reached the Mile Lake sonar, submitted by the Fairbanks AC.

Others were submitted by one commercial sector, trying to change another sector’s allocation or fishery, such as a proposal by the Northwest & Alaska Seiners’ Association that asked the board to allow seiners to fish in an area currently designated for drifters.

When failing those, board members noted that the allocation plans were developed in 2008, and that they didn’t see a strong need to change them. Kluberton said many of the proposed changes would equate to the board “opening a can of worms.”

Cordova resident Jerry McCune, a member of Cordova District Fishermen’s United and president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said strong sockeye runs and stronger king runs than are seen in other parts of the state helped maintain the status quo for Prince William Sound and Copper River fisheries.

“Most users have been very satisfied,” he said.

The king escapement goal for the Copper River was missed once in the past several years, but that wasn’t seen as enough of an issue to require major changes.

“The boat’s still floating,” he said, noting that there was more cooperation and education among different users at the Cordova meeting than at many fisheries management meetings.

“People were reaching out to each other and learning about each others fisheries,” he said.

Glasgow agreed.

“Some of them are much more contentious than this,” he said.

11/18/2016 - 11:00am