UFA president’s home pack ticket caught up in Copper River controversy
Four commercial fishermen, including the president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, have been cited for failing to record retention of commercially caught salmon for personal use on an Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish ticket.
On May 18, the opening day of the Copper River salmon season, Alaska State Troopers cited Peter Breckert, 58, John Thomas, 75, Michael Glasen, 69, and Jerry McCune, 68, all of Cordova.
The offense, a misdemeanor, requires a court appearance and comes with a fine. McCune is also the president of the Cordova Fishermen District United, which represents the approximately 900 commercial fishermen in Area E, and of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest commercial fishing organization in the state.
Reached Wednesday, McCune said he didn’t want to comment on the ticket but that he pled no contest and paid the $110 fine. Commercial fishermen are legally allowed to retain salmon from their catches for personal-use as long as they account for it on their harvest tickets.
The trooper dispatch did not specify the type of salmon, but under their Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permits, Cordova district fishermen are legally allowed to retain all five types of Pacific salmon.
The four fishermen received their tickets amid a fury of controversy over the management of the Copper River fishery this year. Before the season began, biologists forecast a run of approximately 29,000 king salmon to return to the river, only about 5,000 over the minimum escapement of 24,000 king salmon for the river system.
In response, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed all the sportfisheries for king salmon on the Upper Copper River drainage for the entire season and restricted the subsistence fishery to only two king salmon between June 1 and July 15, according to a March 6 news release.
However, the commercial fisheries were allowed to continue to operate, albeit under tighter restrictions. Commercial fishermen have been shut out of an inside area designated for king salmon conservation and restricted to nine hours instead of their usual 12 for the last few periods in an attempt to protect king salmon.
But they still harvested more than the predicted entire harvestable surplus. As of Wednesday, they had harvested 6,899 kings, with another period scheduled for Thursday. Commercial fishermen and managers have said this is a sign the run is larger than the forecast.
McCune did say the commercial fishermen understand the frustration of the upriver fishermen who are completely shut out of fishing for king salmon while the commercial fishermen still get some periods.
“I don’t blame them for being mad,” he said.
When ADFG managers announced the closure of the Copper River sportfishery but that the commercial fishery would operate, the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee requested the Board of Fisheries place additional restrictions on the commercial fishery to protect king salmon.
One of the actions requested by the Fairbanks AC was for the board to prohibit so-called “home pack” retention of king salmon by commercial fishermen.
The board decided against taking up the emergency petition, saying the managers had enough tools to conserve king salmon.
As the run progresses, the commercial fishing managers and the upstream sportfisheries managers are working together to evaluate the run and see if there will be any potential for some sportfishing opportunity, said Mark Somerville, the Upper Copper River area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish.
ADFG has limited tools to evaluate the run in the Copper River inseason, in part relying on mark-recapture studies, but there are a lot of variables for inseason data to consider, he said.
“We’re definitely going to be on the cautious side,” he said. “We’re in discussions every day, which is pretty new for something like this. All the divisions are working together to see if there is some sort of harvestable surplus that all the different user groups can take advantage of.”
The managers are watching all the data they can get, both from the commercial fishery and from the subsistence fishery set to start Thursday, Somerville said.
“It’s either going to show up things are doing clearly better than expected, or not,” he said. “If they’re somewhere in between, we’re going to be between a rock and hard space.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.ear[email protected].