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Fish board adjusts commercial regulations in lower Cook Inlet

Posted: December 14, 2013 - 9:00pm  |  Updated: December 14, 2013 - 11:47pm

Lower Cook Inlet commercial fishermen will see some changes in the boundaries for certain fisheries next year.

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries tackled a handful of proposals that will affect commercial boundaries and markers at the Lower Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage last week.

Salmon seiners will operate under redefined boundaries and use latitude and longitude coordinates instead of physical markers in certain parts of Lower Cook Inlet.

The public panel, including fishermen, that discussed those proposals during committee work came to a consensus to support them, despite concerns about some changes.

The board is tasked with discussing every fishery in the state on a three-year cycle. At the Lower Cook Inlet meeting, which took place Dec. 8-11, the board considered 45 proposals seeking to change various commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use regulations.

The Cook Inlet Seiners Association requested the boundary change in the Port Dick sections of Cook Inlet’s Outer District, which is southwest of Seward. Essentially, the area will now have three sections in that area, rather than two sections split by an east-west line. That passed unanimously.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game already does that some years by emergency order, to aid in management.

Board member Tom Kluberton said that the change could also enable better management for each natal stream.

ADFG requested the change to latitude and longitude coordinates in several areas, citing, in part, a lack of funding to maintain physical markers.

The change is being made in the Halibut Cove, Northshore and Humpy Creek subdistricts, as well as part of Port Dick.

During the board’s deliberations, member John Jensen, of Petersburg, noted that sometimes fishermen don’t keep GPS units on skiffs, just a main boat.

Some fishermen did express concerns about removing the physical markers. During the committee work Dec. 8, David Martin said he would encourage the department to leave the physical markers up, as they can aid fishermen.

And during the board’s deliberations, members also noted that there were some concerns with the cost of a GPS for fishermen.

Ultimately, the board agreed unanimously to stick with the general trend toward more markers determined by coordinates than physical points.

The board also agreed to ADFG’s request to change certain closed waters language so that it refers to coordinates rather than regulatory markers. The actual areas closed to commercial fishermen will not change.

According to the proposal, the program to maintain markers ended in the 1990s.

Certain groundfish regulations were also changed at the request of ADFG.

The board modified offloading requirements so that in certain circumstances — for example, inclement weather or other delay — a fisherman can get approval to offload bycatch later than usual, giving him or her extra time to get to shore.

The board also approved a proposal that clarified pot storage regulations.

 

The biggest changes, however, were discussed but not deliberated.

Fisherman Matt Hegge has asked the BOF to consider two new fisheries in Cook Inlet. One would target pollock, the other groundfish.

Those are largely in response to federal action to rationalize the Gulf of Alaska, an effort being undertaken by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in a bycatch management package. Currently, the council discussion revolves around a catch share program that would likely limit participants in the fishery.

While that action is meant for federal waters, or more than three miles from Alaska’s coastline, it will impact certain state fisheries, too.

Hegge said in committee that his proposals were meant to start a conversation about how the state will respond.

“The feds are claiming title and they’re going to give that title out in a catch share program,” he said.

Paul Shadura, a Kenai Peninsula fisherman, agreed during the committee discussion that the state needs to figure out how it is going to respond to the federal actions.

Beaver Nelson also said he was interested in a past iteration of a pollock seine fishery in Cook Inlet, which did not come to fruition, and would be in the future.

Representatives from other regions, however, expressed more concerns with the proposals, and ultimately the public group agreed that more discussion was needed, but they didn’t have a consensus on what the right response to the federal action would be.

Hegge’s proposals were for Cook Inlet, Chignik and Kodiak, and a decision is expected on them at the Kodiak finfish meeting in January.

The Alaska Marine Conservation Council has also proposed state-waters observer coverage requirements, which will be discussed at that time as well.

The board also had a request from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, to consider an emergency petition to create a new type of stock of concern — a stock of habitat concern. That was not even discussed.

 

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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