Chinook conservation, permit stacking approved for Bristol Bay fisheries

Bristol Bay fisheries will operate under some revised regulations this year.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries met in Naknek in December to consider changes to Bristol Bay finfish regulations, including 73 proposals regarding area salmon fishing.

Commercial salmon fishermen will see a number of changes.

Under the changes to how permits can be stacked, two driftnet permit holders can fish from the same vessel and jointly operate 200 fathoms of drift gillnet gear except in the Togiak District, in a special harvest area, or when the Naknek River Special harvest Area is open.

The Togiak Traditional Council proposed that such permit stacking not be allowed in the Togiak District because the salmon runs in the area are small, and stacking increases the race for fish. The request to allow 200 fathoms of joint gear was made to allow more flexibility for permit stacking than was allowed under a regulation change in 2009.

The board also agreed to prohibit additional drift gear for dual permit vessels in the Togiak District.

The board also unanimously approved an amended proposal that closes an area near the Togiak River to commercial driftnet fishing from June 1 to July 15.

That change is intended to help protect chinook salmon, which can be caught in that area and have had low escapements into the Togiak in recent years.

In the Naknek-Kvichak Management and Allocation Plan, the commercial drift fleet targeting sockeye salmon will only be open between seven-foot flood and seven-foot ebb tide stages. That was proposed an effort to conserve chinooks. The original proposal wanted to stagger fishing but didn’t offer a specific management strategy, and board member Vince Webster proposed the amendment that passed.

For the same plan, an effort to open a new set gillnet fishery at Levelock failed.

On the Ugashik River, the area for setnetting has been decreased. Those nets now must be within 600 feet of the 18-foot high tide mark, rather than the prior requirement of 1,000 feet. According to the proposal — which came from individuals, the area Alaska Department of Fish and Game advisory committee, and the Ugashik Traditional Village Council — 1,000 feet was too large for some of the small spaces around Ugashik village. That carried unanimously.

The board also approved slight changes to the area closed to salmon fishing at the mouth of the Igushik and Togiak rivers. In both cases, the area now open is more consistent with historic openings. The boundaries were inadvertently altered when the state switched from delineating the open and closed waters with markers and loran coordinates to using latitude and longitude coordinates. Near the Igushik, that means an existing setnet site will once again be in open waters. After the boundary transition, the site was placed in closed waters.

Setnet vessels can now transport salmon through the Snake River Section. That proposal, as amended by Webster, passed unanimously. A previous regulation change had limited navigation in the Snake River Section to eliminate illegal fishing in that area.

Various marking requirements also changed.

Shoreside setnet markings will have to be larger this year, as the board approved a proposal changing the marking requirement from six inches to 12 inches. That brings those boats in line with the requirements for drift and setnet boats, which must also have Fish and Game numbers displayed in 12-inch letters.

Another regulation change clarifies the vessel marking requirements for setnet vessels. Those vessels no longer have to have a commercial fisheries entry commission, or CFEC, permit serial number displayed on the boat. Now the vessels are just required to have the vessel name, and the permanent vessel license number.

Bristol Bay CFEC setnet permit holders are also now required to register for a statistical area in the Nushagak District if they intend to fish in that district.

Area management plans were also up for discussion.

The king salmon reference points for the Nushagak-Mulchatna king salmon management plan were revised as suggested by ADFG to match the change in technology. The department has switched from a Bendix sonar to a DIDSON (dual identification sonar), which enumerates more fish.

The biological escapement was changed to a range from 55,000 to 120,000. Previously, the escapement was a single number rather than a range. Other reference numbers within the plan, including the in-river goal, were also adjusted.

Reference points for the Wood River Special Harvest Area Management Plan were changed as well, as were some regulations for operating setnets or drift nets in that harvest area.

Five herring-related proposals also failed unanimously. The proposals were split between changing how herring is allocated, and closing certain areas or aspects of the fishery.

Individuals brought forward two of the allocation-related changes, while the Togiak Traditional Council proposed both closures and one allocation change.

While the proposals failed, board members said they wanted more information on the possible closures, which were put forth as a way to help protect subsistence opportunities in the area. Those will likely come back with additional research during the next cycle.

New sport, subsistence regs

Under the new subsistence schedule approved in December, the final subsistence fishing opening in the Nushagak District each week will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and close at 9 a.m. Sunday, instead of running from Friday to Saturday. The other subsistence openings are on weekdays, so the change allows for a weekend harvest opportunity for those who work Monday through Friday. That change, which was proposed by the Nushagak Advisory Committee, was approved unanimously.

Sportfishermen will see changes this year as well. The non-retention, no-bait area for the Nushagak River was increased to include the full drainage upstream of its confluence with Harris Creek, and fish parts were prohibited in the waters where bait is prohibited.

According to the proposals, both changes are meant, in part, to promote conservation and enhance the rainbow trout fishery.

The board also considered requiring barbless hooks in unbaited, single-hook, artificial fly waters, but that motion failed with a 3-3 vote.

The board did not pass a number of other proposals, including creation of a general district for sockeye fishing, development of a process for addressing future proposals deemed as restructuring the salmon industry. An effort to increase the setnet allocation in the Nushagak, Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik and Ugashik districts also failed.

An effort to establish a sockeye salmon fishery in the Cinder River Section from June 20-Sept. 20, and changes to the allowable fishing areas near Port Heiden were also brought forward at the meeting. Those proposals will be discussed at the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands finfish meeting, scheduled for Feb. 26 to March 4 in Anchorage. At that meeting, the board will also discuss two proposals it generated at the December meeting. One would close sport fishing for king salmon in the Big Creek drainage, and the other would allow permit stacking for set netting in the Egegik and Ugashik districts.

Any proposals resulting from the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project, or WASSIP, will also come forward at that meeting.

11/11/2016 - 11:36pm