ANCHORAGE — Conservation was on the agenda for Alaska Board of Fisheries members who approved proposals restricting fishing in Lower Cook Inlet streams while voting down others that would have liberalized certain fisheries.
Board members expressed their concerns for Cook Inlet king salmon stocks repeatedly Wednesday when deliberating the sportfishing proposals that would have expanded angler opportunity on steelhead, expanded the area available for marine sport fishing and opened a fishery that has been closed by emergency order, due to conservation concerns, for the last two years.
One change the body did approve reduces the king salmon bag and possession limit on the Ninilchik and Anchor rivers as well as Deep Creek to one on Memorial Day weekend and the two following weekends. A person who retains a king salmon 20 inches or larger cannot sportfish in any of those drainages for the rest of the day, according to the new regulation.
From July 1- Oct. 31 the bag limit in the Ninilchik River drainage was also reduced to one king salmon 20 inches or greater.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff supported the proposal saying the runs had been poor in the Ninilchik River and in particular the hatchery king salmon numbers had been down.
Of the two proposals that expanded the geographical area available to marine anglers for sportfishing, one that opened about a quarter-mile area to fishing as it relocated the marker denoting a boundary around the mouth of the Anchor River passed narrowly with a 4-3 vote. Another, which would have relocated the Bluff Point marker north to the southern Anchor River, opening several miles of Cook Inlet waters to sportfishing, failed unanimously.
While king salmon opportunity was at a premium, other types of salmon were up for grabs.
A proposal allowing the use of sport-caught pink salmon for bait in Cook Inlet salt waters passed with little opposition.
The one dissenting vote came from Board Chairman Karl Johnstone.
Several members of the board referenced a regulation in the Prince William Sound which allows the fish to be used as bait.
After the vote, Johnstone said he was philosophically opposed to using salmon for bait though there are other places in the state where it is allowed.
“I know in Southeast salmon are used as bait, they even allow king salmon carcasses. You can’t use the meat of a king salmon, you have to use the carcass,” he said. “... You run into that issue where king salmon are pretty treasured and just philosophically it doesn’t make sense to me to use a salmon.”
Johnstone said the move set a bad precedent.
“We’re very lucky in this state to have an abundance of salmon and to me it sends a message that we have so much, we can use it as bait and everybody would love to have our problem up here ... I can’t imagine any other state that would allow the use of salmon for bait,” he said.
The board voted down two other proposals that would have allowed the use of chum salmon and spiny dogfish shark for bait.
A proposal that would have established an archery fishery in the marine waters in Cook Inlet open to snagging generated more than an hour of debate before narrowly failing in a 3-4 vote.
Board members in opposition, including Tom Kluberton, said they were concerned about safety.
Kluberton said after the meeting he was less concerned about the safety of an experienced angler and more concerned that a newly opened archery fishery could attract inexperienced fishermen who could potentially kill someone.
During board deliberation on the issue, Kluberton acknowledged the idea that the proposal included specific language that only allowed it in areas where snagging for fish was allowed; but said snagging could be unsafe in a different way.
“I’ve never known anyone to be shot through the head, heart or vein with a treble hook,” Kluberton said.
The meeting wrapped up Board of Fisheries meetings for the year. The group will reconvene in Kodiak in early January to discuss Kodiak finfish before meeting again in Anchorage from Jan. 31-Feb. 13 to discuss the more than 200 regulatory change proposals submitted for Upper Cook Inlet. Public comments on those proposals are due to the Board of Fisheries by January 17.
Reach Rashah McChesney at email@example.com.