Personal-use fisheries go largely unchanged

After nearly a full day of board deliberations on 25 proposed regulatory changes, the Cook Inlet’s personal-use fishery remains largely unchanged in the midst of a process that has dramatically restructured commercial set and drift gillnet fishing in the same region.

Board members, dipnetters and commercial fishers agreed that personal-use fishing — particularly on the Kenai River — has been growing in popularity.

“I’m not inclined to change the fishery,” said board member from Petersburg, John Jensen.

“It’s a good channel for Alaskans to get sockeyes and the commercial guys can share a little bit.”

The Alaska Board of Fisheries deliberated for several hours on proposals ranging from restrictions on the size of boat and wake generated, to several limiting personal-use fishing permits and the prohibition of king salmon in the fishery.

Of the three proposals that passed, one bumped up the number of sockeye salmon needed to liberalize the Kenai River personal-use, or dipnet, fishery from 2.0 million fish to 2.3 million.

The proposal, submitted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, brought the regulations in line with the Kenai River Late-Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan which increases the inriver sport bag and possession limits when 2.3 million more sockeye salmon are expected to hit the river.

Another proposal that clarified the term “fishing site” was passed.

In the personal-use fishery, a person is required to record personal-use harvest before concealing the salmon from plain view or transporting it from the shoreline or bank near waters open to personal-use fishing.

According to ADFG data, more than 400 citations were issued between 2012 and 2013 for failure to record personal-use salmon harvest before leaving the fishing site.

The board also extended the smelt, or hooligan, personal-use fishery by 15 days from April 1 through June 15 in the Kenai River.

Among the proposals that failed was one that would have prohibited ADFG from opening the fishery to 24-hour use on the Kenai River. The proposal would have allowed for increased harvest limits on sockeye salmon.

The city of Kenai passed a resolution supporting the proposal before the two-week board meeting.

The seven-day-a-week fishery typically operates from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. from July 10-31 — a time period that gives city crews time to clean the beaches and remove waste.

Without that window of time, Kenai City Manager Rick Koch told the board, crews cannot effectively clean and maintain the beaches.

The large tractors and heavy machinery are too dangerous to use when dipnetters are on the beach, he said.

During deliberation on the proposal to limit the fishery to its normal prescribed hours board member from Talkeetna Tom Kluberton said he encouraged the city to figure out how to organize in the face of the large crowds.

“We’re managing the fisheries resources and they are managing the infrastructure,” said board member from Kodiak, Sue Jeffrey. 

I feel for the city, but it’s like with anything, change is constant and we’re seeing change.”

Paul Dale, owner of Snug Harbor Seafoods and a representative from the Alaska Salmon Alliance, said the board had not moved carefully when considering proposals to ease the burden on the city.

Equating the fishery to an unfunded mandate, Dale said the board owed the city of Kenai some assistance.

“The city of Kenai, I think plainly came up here, sat through public testimony in order to tell the board what their problems are in terms of managing the fishery and said very plainly, ‘You know, we need some time in the middle of the night to clean up the beach without hurting people,’” Dale said. “I think it’s a very legitimate concern and I think it’s very unfortunate that the body that directs ADFG that has the ability to make that sensible change, dismisses it so unceremoniously.”

Dale said it was indicative of the poor relationship between a board that had the opportunity to manage the fishery and a city that was stuck with managing the fishery.

Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said he used the Kenai River dipnet fishery every year.

“It’s a very efficient way to harvest fish in a short period of time,” he said. “Fish harvested there go a long way toward providing food security for families. It’s on the road system, which is why it’s the largest PU fishery in the state.”

The Kenai River dipnet fishery is lacking the regulatory complexity of other fisheries on the river, Gease said.

“One of the bright spots is that it concentrates use at the mouth of the river,” he said. “It keeps the bulk of those users off of the banks and protects the riparian bank fishing zones further upriver.”

Board members said the growing population of the Mat-Su Borough needed to be given consideration when proposals were considered. Jensen called the area the “population center” of Alaska.

“It’s an emerging user group and I think we are being cautious. We want to be thoughtful,” Jeffrey said.

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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