Fish board to take up setnet petition

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will consider one of three recently submitted emergency petitions regarding Upper Cook Inlet salmon management.

South K Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, or KPFA, submitted three petitions asking the board to reconsider management changes it made to restrict East Side setnetters as an attempt to conserve Kenai king salmon. The board made the changes at its Upper Cook Inlet meeting held in Anchorage Jan. 31-Feb. 13.

The emergency petitions were submitted March 20 in Anchorage at the board’s statewide king and tanner crab and supplemental issues meeting.

At that time, board Chairman Karl Johnstone said the board would wait for staff comments before making a decision on whether or not to add the petitions to an agenda.

Paul Shadura, spokesman for South K Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association, said he was informed Tuesday that the board would consider one of his organization’s petitions. A date for the meeting to consider that petition had not been set as of Tuesday.

That petition asks the board to consider splitting up management in the Kenai and Kasilof districts when there are 36 hours of fishing available to setnetters in a week.

The other two petitions were denied.

KPFA asked for a change to the new East Side setnet regulations that create additional restrictions for late-run Kenai River king salmon when the run is projected to be less than 22,500 fish. The organization wrote that it believed not all state salmon escapement policies were considered in setting the new goal.

The current minimum escapement goal is 15,000 late-run kings and the 2014 forecast is for 19,700 kings.

The other petition from South K Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association, which goes by the acronym SOKI (pronounced “sockeye”), addressed the difficulty in getting the shortened gear that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game can now require. The difficulty of getting the new gear was unknown at the time the regulation passed, Shadura said.

In a Tuesday letter, Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight wrote that the SOKI petition concerning the gear requirement was denied.

“The Board of Fisheries considered the emergency petition and found that it does not meet the emergency petition criteria found in regulation under 5 AAC 96.625,” Haight wrote. “The board determined that there was no unforeseen or unexpected event that either threatens a resource or an unforeseen, unexpected resource situation where a biologically allowable resource harvest would be precluded.”

Haight said Tuesday that the emergency determinations were based on board members’ votes whether to hold a meeting regarding each petition.

Haight said each vote reflects whether or not the petition appears to rise to the level of emergency, but there are no deliberations between members. The Department of Law has advised that it’s not appropriate for board members to discuss the issues outside of a public forum, so the process is simple, Haight said.

“It’s very static,” Haight said. “’Here’s the petition, here’s staff comments, make your decision if you think we should meet.’”

In an email, Haight told Shadura that the KPFA petition was denied for similar reasons to the first SOKI petition.

According to Shadura, the process by which the second SOKI petition was denied does not match the board’s policy.

“I’m not happy about any of this,” Shadura said, calling the process “disturbing.”

A 2000 board policy states that if an emergency petition is submitted at a board meeting, or when one is coming up, it is supposed to be added to the current or future meeting’s agenda.

That means the petitions submitted March 20 during a board meeting should have been discussed at that meeting, he said.

But at the end of the meeting, when considering the other emergency petitions on the agenda, Johnstone said the board would wait until ADFG had time to comment on them before considering them.

Instead of being automatically added to the agenda, Haight was tasked with sending the board members an email on March 27 after the staff comments were provided and asking them to respond with a yes or no on whether they wanted to consider the petitions in a meeting.

According to the board policy, at least two board members must say they want to have a special meeting to consider the petition, otherwise it is considered denied.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce has submitted a public records request seeking the relevant emails including how each member voted; the state has not yet provided those.

Reached by cell phone Tuesday, Johnstone declined to comment on why the out-of-meeting process was used for determining whether to hold a meeting for the petitions rather than the in-meeting process.

Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

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