Board Holds Off On Major Action For Salmon Fisheries

Shaylon Cochran

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     The state Board of Fisheries took up the issue of king salmon management at its meeting this week. The Board was supposed to dive into this topic during the 2014 cycle, but given the 2012 salmon season, they got to it a year early. Despite taking into consideration the proposals generated by a task force that met over the winter, the board decided to do little for 2013.

     For more insight into the process and about how salmon fishermen feel about the board’s actions, KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran spoke with Peninsula Clarion reporter Rashah McChesney who was in Anchorage to cover the meeting.

     Shaylon Cochran:  We know there wasn’t much consensus coming out of the Task Force, so what did that leave the Board to consider, since the Task Force simply couldn’t agree to much?

     Rashah McChesney:  Well, it was funny…by the end of it, the proposal that came out of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force definitely didn’t have a consensus, but that was not the same proposal that ended up being taken up by the Board of Fisheries. Several changes were made to it during this Board process.

     And so, what you ended up with was really a document that nobody was happy with. You had setnetters telling Board of Fisheries members ‘this is non-tenable for us’ because there was another part of the proposal the Board took up that would have restricted their gear, and that was not something the Task Force had recommended. That part would have given the Department of Fish and Game the ability to reduce the number of nets or the length of nets.

     So a lot of setnetters came out and said ‘hey, that might work for somebody who fishes ten sites and has multiple nets, but what about people who fish one site, and now they have one net, or a shortened net that they can work with?’, they essentially said that would have become an allocative issue, that you would have been allocating most of the sockeye to people who had more nets.

     And then you still had this sort of…well, for instance, Task Force member Kevin Delaney, who is a consultant for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, gave a pretty long presentation on why he was not happy with ADF&G’s new escapement goal because it is significantly lower than its old escapement goal. So you really had this proposal that was being debated that people from two sides of the issue were not happy with.

     So the same people who had been hammering it out on the Task Force almost kind of came together to say ‘no, none of these things are tenable to either of these groups’, which I think is ultimately why, or one of the reasons why, the Board decided to reject those proposals, is that they became unpopular to both sides.

     The feeling that I get is that the board didn’t take a whole lot of action this time around, sort of crossing their fingers that 2013 would just naturally be a little better than 2012 and also recognizing that in 2014, the Board is going to take up Cook Inlet issues again as part of their normal process.

     Right. So that was something (Board member) Tom Kluberton mentioned in his testimony when he actually withdrew his support for those proposals that he had originally helped to draft (as co-chair of the Task Force), and he also said that there were several pieces of information that came to light that actually would have made those proposals more restrictive.

     So the idea was to give Fish and Game managers a lot of flexibility, but in reality…it gets a little bit complicated, but in reality they would have actually ended up shutting down most of the fishery in the early part of July because they would not have had the projected escapement numbers they needed.

     So, there ended up being kind of a hope that there would be data coming out of this coming season that would help them maybe tweak the management plan during the 2014 cycle, because they don’t have the data they need now to do it and actually give the managers the flexibility that they think they need.

     I got a sense for the first time since all of this started that, that they’re starting to understand that the run timing is different, and this idea of splitting the late run into two seasons would give them a tool to manage later in the season than they’re used to.

     Right, and that’s where it got kind of interesting. So, what they did was say that if the fisheries are below 15,000, if the projected escapement is below 15,000, everyone is out of the river, you can’t fish for chinook. But, if their expected escapement hits that range between 15,000 and 16,500, which is a very narrow window of fish to manage to, then there would be some fishing opportunity for users, but it would be severely restricted. And that’s where you got into no bait, catch and release, shortening the length of the nets or taking the nets out of the water; all of these sort of handicaps for being able to catch massive amounts of fish because it wasn’t quite low enough to be unsafe, but it wasn’t high enough that the Department was completely comfortable liberalizing the fishery.

     And so what you would have was until the 20th of July, if that projected escapement was between 15,000 and 16,500, people could fish and on the 21st, they would do this escapement again and essentially start over with their management.

     That’s where the run timing got kind of crucial and what Tom Kluberton was telling me was that a setnetter had given him data that showed that the late run didn’t have an escapement projection above 15,000 until almost the 20th of July. So if they had put that regulation into effect, it would have been, well, as Kluberton said, it would have been a disaster because if you don’t have an escapement that shows you’ll hit 15,000 fish before the 20th of July, that’s the first three weeks of July that all of the fishermen are going to be out of the water which would have been much more restrictive than last season.

     I talked to a couple of setnetters afterward, and they told me that they were satisfied with the Board’s decision because gear modifications were untenable to them. But I also talked to a couple people who told me that they didn’t feel like that whole process with the Task Force had been in vain. There was a lot of data generated from that whole process and so now Fish and Game and all of the managers and all of the fishermen have this data base of things that are really important to know about the fishery in one place.

     And so that’s one of the bright spots in this whole thing, is that even though you met for months, you generated thousands of pages of documents and we had arguments and it was all kind of contentious, what did come out of it was more knowledge about the fishery, which will hopefully be beneficial in the future.

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