The Board of Fisheries is scheduled to meet next week to plan their upcoming cycle of meetings and consider several Agenda Change Requests that could impact Cook Inlet fisheries.
Eight of the 21 ACRs deal specifically with fishing in Cook Inlet and two of the statewide requests could affect the area.
The Board of Fish will meet Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to discuss these and other issues. However the board will make no decisions on the merit of each request, only a decision on whether to take them up out of cycle, said Monica Wellard, executive director of the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
Wellard said any ACRs the board decides to take up out of its normal cycle would then be put on the board’s regular meeting schedule for the upcoming year. The board is not scheduled to take up Cook Inlet issues again until 2014.
The board will discuss the ACRs on Wednesday. It will also consider the status of a Chinook Salmon Research Plan and the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project.
The meeting is at the Egan Civic & Convention Center in Anchorage. The board will not hear oral testimony during its work session. Audio from the sessions will be available on the Board of Fisheries website.
The Kenai River Sportfishing Association filed an ACR requesting the board consider modifying the Kenai River late-run king salmon management plan. According to the request, the management plan would be amended to refer to a new escapement goal for kings, extend the time period the management plan is in effect, review the current management plan and provide step-down measures in the commercial setnet fishery.
KRSA executive director Ricky Gease said the discussion of step-down measures in the commercial setnet fishery is important.
“The only thing that’s in the management plan is this on-off switch,” he said. “Either you’re all fishing or you’re not fishing. We haven’t addressed this question of are there any methods to step down the harvest efficiency of setnets for king salmon?”
Gease said he thought specific step-down conservation measures applied to the commercial setnet fishery, in tandem with the step-down measures currently in place with the sport fishery, would help the commercial fishing community have a clearer understanding of exactly when and how it would be allowed to fish in times of low king salmon abundance.
“This year, when (the sport fishery) went to single-hook, no bait and we went to catch-and-release, there were closures on the commercial side,” Gease said. “They’re not in the plans, but they were necessary to do. One of the complaints from the setnet community was that they didn’t know that it would happen. It’s not clearly identified as a step-down measure.”
Gease said another ACR, filed by Brent Johnson, a local commercial fisherman, suggested using a selective type of gear that would direct salmon into a live box to be used by setnet permit holders.
This would allow setnetters the option of releasing certain kinds of salmon while retaining others, an option Gease said would be a good step-down measure for the setnet fishery.
“Those are the kinds of conversations that we think would be fruitful on the setnet side, otherwise all you’re left with is an on-off switch,” Gease said.
Johnson’s proposal, however, has been classified by the Alaska Department of Law as a form of fish trap which are prohibited under state law according to board staff comments on the ACR.
Johnson said he planned to attend the Board of Fish work session despite having his proposal labeled a fish trap, in the hopes the board would consider supporting his “selective harvest module.”
He said he has also approached the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about allowing him to experiment with the new type of gear during the 2013 fishing season.
“What I want is a permit from Fish and Game for new gear types to test this selective harvest modules. I’ll show them my plan and have them approve it, build a device and have them look at it, then test it next year,” he said.
Ultimately, he said he would need support from other setnetters, the Board of Fish and the Legislature to transition to a new type of gear to allow setnetters to harvest sockeye and release king salmon.
An ACR filed by Fish and Game staff referenced a new escapement goal on the Kenai River.
According to that ACR, the department plans to develop a new transitional DIDSON-based escapement goal for the 2013 fishing season, the new goal would have to be added to the Kenai River king salmon management plan.
During a recent meeting between local fishermen and members of Fish and Game, officials said that new goal would likely be available for public review by February.
Gease said the new goal would be considered transitional as Fish and Game will eventually have to move the current DIDSON site upriver to mitigate the effects of the changing tides on the fish counts.
Christine Shadura submitted an ACR requesting a specific date be added to the late-run Kenai River king salmon management plan that would close sport and commercial fisheries if the in-river salmon run is projected to be less than 17,800 king salmon. That number — 17,800 — is the lower end of the late-run king salmon escapement goal currently listed in the management plan.
According to staff comments, the ACR would reduce the department’s flexibility in conserving fish as date-specific actions could — because of variability in the timing of the run — occur later than necessary to ensure adequate escapement.
The Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition submitted an ACR requesting Fish and Game research the early run of Kenai River king salmon and recommend that the early run salmon be classified as a stock of concern. Dwight Kramer, chairman of the coalition and a private angler, said the early run of kings has been low for several years.
“We’re just asking the board to have (Fish and Game) prepare a stock assessment of the early run as it might pertain to a discussion for a stock of concern status,” he said.
If the early run stock is classified as a stock of concern, regulations would trigger protections on the fishery during the early run.
“You would start the season with a very strict fishery,” Kramer said. “You can still fish on it and things like that, but it would start out on a conservation mode rather than having to go into a conservation mode later in the season.”
Kramer said the coalition is not specifically asking for a stock of concern status right away, just research that could help with a discussion on the early run during the normal Cook Inlet cycle meeting in 2014.
“If the 2013 fishery picks up, it might well look like things will turn around,” he said. “If we have another really bad year like it’s been, well then it may be time for a change.”
According to the board comments, a stock of concern designation is not a regulatory change and may not fall under the board’s requirements for changing its agenda.
According to the Alaska Department of Law, however, the board would not be able to require Fish and Game to conduct a specific type of research, analysis or assessment, according to staff comments on the ACR.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission submitted an ACR which requests additional restrictions on the drift gillnet fleet in the central district.
According to its ACR, the request asks for restrictions on the fishing time and/or area of the drift gillnet fleet and that the board reconsider the 4.6 million sockeye salmon run on the Kenai River which automatically lifts mandatory restrictions on the drift fleet during its regular fishing periods.
The ACR also requests the board establish achievement of minimum escapement goals on certain salmon stocks as more important than exceeding the upper end of the escapement goals on other salmon stocks.
Currently, the commercial division of Fish and Game operates under specific time and area restrictions to provide conservation for sockeye and coho salmon headed for the Northern District of Cook Inlet.
During the 2012 sockeye salmon fishing season, Pat Shields, area biologist with the department of Fish and Game, said the drift fleet was fished toward the east side of the inlet with the idea that northern-bound salmon may run on the west side of the inlet.
According to staff comments on the ACR the board adopted several changes in the central district driftnet management plan to provide conservation of northern-bound salmon stocks.
The drift fleet was used to harvest surplus Kenai and Kasilof river sockeye salmon during the 2011 and 2012 fishing periods in what Shields called an “abnormal fishing pattern” or one in which setnetters were out of the water while driftnetters fished.
At the time, Shields said despite the driftnetters being able to fish district-wide when the 4.6 million sockeye run trigger was reached, the department still placed area restrictions on where they could fish in the interest of conserving northern-bound stocks.
Commercial fisherman Tom Strother, of Kenai, submitted an ACR requesting that the area where dipnetters fish from their boats be moved upstream.
According to his ACR there is no horsepower restriction downstream of river mile 4 on the Kenai River, but upstream horsepower is limited to a maximum of 50 horsepower.
Strother said he didn’t want to expand the area, rather relocate the current personal-use dipnetting area to a space between Cunningham Park and the Kenai River Bridge which would require boats to fall under river regulations for engine-size and stroke requirement.
“It will reduce pollution, reduce erosion, improve the environment and reduce emissions onto the Kenai River,” he said.
Strother said he had no intention of relocating people onshore, just people in their boats.
“You have a lot of traffic and a lot of potential for folks to get hurt,” he said. “There are times when the boats, as they’re coming in for their personal-use, there’s no regard for wake, no regard for speed, they’re just going as fast as they can to get what they can in the short amount of time that they have to do it.”
Brandie Ware submitted an ACR to require Fish and Game to forward identifying and permit information to the Department of Public Safety if a person does not return their personal use salmon fishing permit after the season in the Upper Cook Inlet. People who did not return their permits would not be issued personal use fishing permits for the next calendar year.
According to staff comments on the ACR there are already penalties for people who fail to return their permits and the department provides DPS with permit information on the personal use fishery.