Southeast trollers fight for chums

Regulations to increase the chum harvest for southeast trollers fell short.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries held a meeting from Feb. 23 to March 3 to hear proposals regarding southeast Alaska and Yakutat finfish, which includes salmon, herring, and sablefish fisheries for commercial, sport, and subsistence harvest.

The meeting limped along with only four voting members during many of the proposals, which kept at least one contentious measure from being passed for lack of board input. Board members were alternately excused from deliberations over potential conflicts of interest, and the board only six of its normal seven members in attendance.

Former chairman Karl Johnstone submitted his resignation in January following gubernatorial disappointment of the board’s Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner interview process. Johnstone’s nominated replacement, Roland Maw, dropped his name from consideration on Feb. 20 in light of a Montana criminal investigation of which he is a principle, leaving the board one member short.

The biggest and most contentious of this session’s 107 proposals concerned commercial salmon, particularly the troll fleet’s allocation of enhanced stock chum salmon.

The southeast Alaska troll fleet says it has consistently fished less than its enhanced salmon fishery share, the details of which were drawn up in 1994 under the Southeast Alaska Area Enhanced Salmon Allocation Management Plan to regulate how much hatchery salmon each fleet is entitled to during the commercial season.

Under the plan, the seiners receive 44 percent to 49 percent, gillnets 24 percent to 29 percent, and troll fleet receives 27 percent to 32 percent of the enhanced salmon released into the common property fisheries of southeast Alaska. Troll fleet representatives claim their 2009-13 average is closer to 17 percent, and that they have only fished their entire allocation one of the 20 years the enhanced salmon plan has been in place.

“Trollers have remained well below their allocation under the Southeast Enhanced Salmon Allocation Management Plan for many years,” read a proposal from the Chum Trollers Association. “These allocation ranges were established to ensure a ‘fair and reasonable distribution of the harvest of salmon from enhancement projects among the seine, troll and gillnet commercial fisheries.’ At least with regard to the troll fleet, the actual harvest has persistently fallen well short of the fair share of 27–32 (percent) provided.”

Troll fleet organizations fought for increased allocations, loosened restrictions, and greater in-season freedoms in an effort to pull more salmon, but the board did not pass most proposals submitted by trollers.

The other gear groups of gillnetters, seiners, and longliners voiced unanimous opposition during the public commentary portions of the board’s Committee of the Whole. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opposing many of the proposals that would have restricted its management flexibility or created conservation concerns.

A proposal by the Chum Trollers Association summarized the troll fleet’s ultimate goal when it asked for revision of enhanced salmon allocations by the Board of Fisheries and respective hatchery organizations.

The proposal met unanimous opposition from both industry and ADFG.

Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, or NSRAA, which operates several area hatcheries for pink, chum, and coho salmon, said he works for all groups equally and couldn’t condone the reallocation of a manageable resource.

“I didn’t sleep last night really, all about this proposal here,” said Reifenstuhl. “I have put my heart and soul into developing program for chum trollers, for gillnets, for seiners, for the common property of Alaska. The allocation imbalance is true, but we have grown the pie.”

The net fleets voiced unanimous opposition, insisting that a regulatory action undermines the spirit of voluntary solutions among fishermen and could set a precedent for interference in the future.

“Industry is concerned about proposal 176 because it highlights the concern that we cannot work things out amongst ourselves without Board of Fisheries intervention,” said Haines troller James Moore.

Another contentious proposal, submitted by the Alaska Trollers Association, would have changed the summer king salmon harvest from 70 percent to 60 percent if the preseason abundance index is at or above 1.6, or following a chum salmon closure. This would theoretically give the troll fleet more king salmon to fish in August.

Support was evenly split, and board members Reed Morisky and John Jensen, both of whom have stake in the southeast troll industry, recused themselves.

With only four votes and an even distribution of positive and negative public commentary, board members were reluctant to make any decisions, even though the board generally supported the proposal as a well-constructed and fair way to ease the troll fleet’s allocation woes.

“We’re down to four,” said board member Orville Huntington. “To pass a proposal now, we’d need four votes (majority). Since it’s already a divisive issue, I feel like even if we pass it, it wouldn’t sit well with me. The process is not quite right here. That reason is the only reason I oppose this.”

The proposal failed on a 2-2 tie vote, with Huntington and vice chair Tom Kluberton voting against and Sue Jeffrey and Fritz Johnson voting in favor.

The board ended its meeting with a closed executive session to discuss three legal cases, including the Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association’s lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the subsistence case involving fisherman Rocky Estrada.

During the meeting, the board mentioned that board-generated proposals should be made available for public review with enough time for the public and advisory committees to prepare responses. Several proposals were tabled to give the public more time for review.

Alaska Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, submitted House Bill 103, which would bar the Boards of Fisheries and Game from introducing or amending proposals without having submitted them to public or advisory committee review. The bill was scheduled for fisheries subcommittee hearing on both Feb. 26 and March 3, and has been cancelled both times.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

11/18/2016 - 6:12pm