Bristol Bay permit stacking, plan revisions on board agenda

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will hold its last meeting of 2015 from Dec. 2-8 in Anchorage to discuss changes to the management of Bristol Bay finfish, largely sockeye salmon, the region’s largest moneymaker.

The board has 70 proposals to consider, the bulk of which concern permit stacking for commercial fishermen and amending district management plans, boundaries, and permit requirements.

Bristol Bay is the largest natural sockeye run in the world. The resulting fishery, the most valuable in the state, is the region’s largest source of employment. The board meets once every three years for each region under its control.

Permit stacking

Nine of the proposals, submitted by members of the public or by the board’s regional advisory councils, request that Bristol Bay fishermen be allowed to hold several commercial permits at once. Currently, setnetters are allowed to hold two permits but only allowed to fish one. Driftnetters are held to similar restrictions.

The unpredictable value of the fishery, they said, has made it uneconomical to only fish one setnet or driftnet permit. In some cases transfer restrictions prevent families from making full use of their existing permits.

Such permit stacking was allowed only between 2009-2012, then discontinued by the board. Permit stacking, the board said, raised the price of permits and made them less available to Bristol Bay locals. Setnetters said the board should reinstate the program, and that fears were overblown.

“The program worked like it was supposed to,” wrote Kim Rice, setnet permit holder. “There were no problems. We had over 82 percent positive comments at the last board cycle for Bristol Bay. It was a sound program that allowed setnet fishers to not have to transfer between family members all the time.”

Bristol Bay locals have felt the region’s unpredictability sharply in 2015. After a massive season in 2014 left vendors stockpiled with extra sockeye salmon, the equally impressive but oddly timed 2015 sockeye run only paid out 50 cents per pound to fishermen. This is half the average price. Bristol Bay fishermen have circulated a petition asking for more transparent interactions with processors to ensure fair treatment.

Management plans and boundaries

Residents of Port Heiden are asking the board to redefine boundary lines so their members can participate in Bristol Bay fisheries. Other members of the public are asking the board to redraw boundary lines or create new areas to allow more fishing opportunity and decrease competition among permit holders in cramped areas.

Also geared towards cutting competitiveness, the Togiak Advisory Committee is suggesting the board prohibit tenders, fish buyers, and fish transport vessels from anchoring within 1,500 feet of set gillnet sites. Tenders, the committee says, often encroach “upon set net sites to impede drifters from drifting legal distances from set net sites.”

Other proposals would establish minimum distance requirements for specific districts.

An argument is also taking place over registration times. In the Egegik district, locals say the registration dates to fish in their district needs to be pushed back, as incoming fishermen will dart between several districts during the season and make fishing more competitive and more dangerous.

Incoming fishermen, however, are proposing several looser registration requirements, arguing they need as much leeway as possible to go from one fish-heavy district to another and maximize their income.

Several village councils are requesting that the board create individual salmon management plans for new areas, including the Alagnak River, Kvichak River, and a special harvest area in the Graveyard Creek area.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is proposing several upkeep items, including updating salmon management plans to reflect in-river run goals and escapement goals for Nushagak coho salmon and Togiak sockeye salmon.

11/24/2015 - 2:16pm