Proposals to limit salmon fishing under fire

A storm is brewing ahead of the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting next week.

Dealing with the Alaska Peninsula salmon fishery, Area M, as well as Chignik, the meeting comes up against the collapse of the Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim salmon fisheries

Some AYK fishermen are supporting proposals that would limit salmon fishing on the south side of the Peninsula to potentially allow more salmon to their region, while Area M is protesting the move saying they already take voluntary steps to allow more chum and chinook salmon to pass.

Several of the proposals call for reverting back to the 2001-2003 plan by reducing options for increased fishing periods in the South Unimak and Shumagin Islands sections, and returning a provision that allows for expanded fishing if the sockeye to chum ratio is less than 2-1.

Similar provisions in the late 1990s occasionally led to what was called “chum chucking,” where fishermen would sometimes toss chums overboard to keep the ratio low, according to people who fished the area at the time. Alaska Department of Fish and Game requires all salmon caught to be kept, but in practice it is hard to enforce.

In their public comments to the Board, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association took aim at the proposals, saying that they portray a misunderstanding of the history of the area and the cultural ties to the fishery, while acknowledging the issues in the AYK region and elsewhere. APIA is a consortium of 13 federally recognized Aleut tribes.

“The desperation felt by communities reeling from fisheries failures, our communities included, can only be alleviated by the stock recoveries that scientifically-sound management can bring, and not by increasing economic hardships in other communities,” they write.

One particular proposal, number 140, was submitted by the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, and appears to be the one with the most traction, judging from the public comments. In support of their proposal, BSFA writes, “It is indisputable that significant percentages of AYK-bound chum salmon are present in and harvested by Area M fishermen during the June commercial fisheries. BSFA urges the Board to support Proposal 140 to curtail interception of AYK-bound chum by reducing fishing time for all gear types in Area M subdistricts that are known to intercept percentages of chum that would otherwise escape to rivers throughout the AYK region.”

They add that relative to other proposals before the Board, 140 is a compromise that proposes an “elegant, administratively reasonable solution to this inequity by returning management of those interception fisheries to a known regulatory structure that, when previously implemented between 2001 and 2003, provided a stronger safeguard against the unsustainable interception of AYK-bound chum and other non-local stocks that have occurred in Area M commercial fisheries in recent years.”

APIA takes issue with the term “interception,” stating, “One area where we see significant misunderstanding of our fishing culture is in the inappropriate conflation of incidental catch and multi-species fishing. The traditional value to gratefully accept what nature has offered to the harvester is an integral part of our culture, as well as many others, which usually means multiple species that change over the season. Incidental catch describes another species that feeds people and supports the fishing family. Incidental catch is not a traditional term, and has only recently been cast negatively since the move to single-species fisheries management.”

They add that “multi-species” catches are important for their bottom line and “another species to rely on when unprecedented change threatens the only economy we have ever known, incidental catch amounts to resilience within the ecosystem, the fishery and our fishing-reliant communities.”

The BOF meeting takes place Feb. 20-25 at the Dena’ina Center at 600 W. 7th Ave. in Anchorage. All meeting materials, including proposals and public comments, plus information on how to stream live can be found at

Cristy Fry can be reached at