NOAA seeking comment for proposed regulation of Cook Inlet commercial fishing

Public comment is being sought by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries on a proposed rule that would implement federal management on commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the Cook Inlet Exclusive Economic Zone. That area has previously been subject to state regulation with the rest of Cook Inlet.

According to information published by NOAA Fisheries on last Wednesday, their proposed amendment — Amendment 16 — would implement new requirements for commercial drift gillnet vessels in the zone, which runs south from Kalgin Island to around Anchor Point. Fishing would be permitted Mondays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. “beginning on or after June 19” until total allowable catch is taken or Aug. 15.

The publication says that commercial fishing vessels would need a federal permit, would maintain a fishing logbook, and would have a monitoring system installed onboard.

“Commercial fishing vessels would not be allowed to participate in the Federal fishery at the same time as participating in the state water fishery,” it says.

The Amendment was published at under document number 2023-22747 on Oct. 19. Public comment will be open for 60 days following publication, until Dec. 18. Comments can be submitted online at the federal register.

According to previous Clarion reporting, the zone has been at the center of some back and forth in recent years. The zone was removed from the federal Fishery Management Plan in 2012, but in 2016, a Court of Appeals ruling required the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to reintroduce the zone into that plan by 2020.

The body recommended closing the zone to commercial fishing, a closure implemented in November 2021 by NOAA Fisheries, citing the need to optimize stock conservation in Cook Inlet. In 2022, the first season in which that closure would take effect, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association sued to keep the waters open. Per a decision by an Alaska District Court in June 2022, NOAA was directed to implement an amendment to the Salmon Fisheries Management Plan by May 2024.

At April 2023 meetings, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council chose not to take action on an amendment to the plan, according to meeting documents from the council. NOAA Fisheries heard public comment in a webinar in May, and have now developed the amendment.

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