Funds for fishery enforcement: Wildlife Troopers receive $175,000

“To my knowledge we didn’t ask for it,” said James Cockrell, administrative services director of the Department of Public Safety, April 29. “I found out about it, it was fairly recent, basically after the operating budget was approved by the House and Senate.”

 

The appropriation was an amendment of language inserted in Senate Bill 119 when it was in the Senate Finance committee. The Senate language, which appears in an April 7 version of the bill, would have appropriated the money specifically for enforcement and inspection of Eastside setnets in Upper Cook Inlet.

The House language, which was in the final capital budget that passed the Legislature, broadened the uses, effectively allowing the funds to be used for enforcement of laws and regulations on any type of salmon fishery catching Kenai Peninsula stocks.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he thought that the original language had not been meant to help the setnet fleet.

“I think it was originally meant as a message,” he said in an interview with the Journal.

The amended language, however, reflected an effort by the House to turn the funding into something positive, he said.

“I do appreciate the House taking the initiative to amend the amendment,” Micciche told the Journal.

The amendment appears in the draft that moved out of the House Finance Committee on April 20, what was supposed to be the final day of the session that lasted until 4 a.m. April 21.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, was the House Finance Committee co-chairman who managed the capital budget. His office would have done the actual paperwork to add the section to the bill. Neither he, nor his staff, nor Co-chair Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, responded to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

The House held the bill until finally passing it on the afternoon of the session’s final day on April 25.

It’s unclear when individual senators would have seen the final draft but Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and gulf coast Sens. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Micciche all said after final adjournment that they were not aware the section was in the bill they had just voted to pass.

“I’m taking it as a very positive thing to help with enforcement of the dipnet fisheries at the mouth of each river as well as some of the commercial fisheries. I’m taking it as a very positive move to help with keeping people safe and ensuring that all of our fish and game laws are followed,” Micciche said on April 25.

The City of Kenai has been pressing the Legislature and Department of Fish and Game for better management and enforcement during the personal-use fishery that draws tens of thousand of Anchorage and Southcentral dipnetters.

“The city’s resources to respond to the state’s personal use fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River are extremely taxed. We are at the breaking point to be able to respond,” said Rich Koch, Kenai city manager, at a March 24 Senate Resources Committee hearing.

Paul Shadura, a setnetter and spokesman for the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said the language in the funding provision addressing “on-site enforcement and inspection of new gear types and reporting requirements” refers to new regulations adopted by the Board of Fisheries at its February session.

It applies to setnetters with two permits allowing the use of both if they use shorter nets.

“Most setnet fishermen hate the requirement and can’t even get the required gear in time for the 2014 season and many fishermen are abandoning the dual permit holding to escape the onerous of the rules,” Shadura wrote in an April 29 email.

He added that KPFA, and the local wildlife trooper detachment were “as surprised as the rest of us” when the provision appeared in the bill.

“Troopers I hear are reluctant to actually lift a net out of the water with their vessels and count the meshes while at sea. Said that they would have to wait until the fisher came ashore. Not really enforceable was a comment that a past enforcement advisor made who was not at the last UCI BOF regulatory meeting,” Shadura wrote.

 

Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at fishlawsbob@gmail.com. Alaska Journal of Commerce Reporter Molly Dischner contributed to this story.

Extra enforcement would focus on setnet fishery

Each summer the Soldotna post of the state’s Wildlife Troopers calls in for reinforcements.

Between the sprawling dipnet fisheries at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, commercial set and driftnetting fleets and the sportfishing pressure on Kenai Peninsula rivers and lakes — enforcement of fisheries regulations can be a daunting task for the 11 wildlife troopers stationed between Anchor Point, Soldotna and Seward.

Lt. Paul McConnell, deputy commander for the B-detachment of the wildlife troopers, said the department usually brings in between two and four extra troopers, for a week to ten days, near the middle of July — the usual peak of the central Kenai Peninsula’s sockeye salmon runs.

Barring any changes in the surprise addition of $175,0000 into the state’s capital projects budget for the next fiscal year, the Troopers will likely spend the vast majority of the money on extra officers and lodging for those officers during the upcoming fishing season, McConnell said.

He said the detachment was considering bringing an extra sergeant and up to five extra troopers to fill in for the month of July.

To house those officers in motor homes — at about $6,500 a piece for the duration of July — the detachment would spend about $20,000 on housing alone, he said.

Efforts will focus primarily on enforcing regulations in the commercial setnet fishery, McConnell said.

“That’s part of what, apparently, the Legislature wants us to do and from earlier language (in the amendment) it looked like there’s concern about whether fish tickets are being completed accurately, so that would be another thing we would look at,” McConnell said. “But, until we see the actual language, I don’t actually know.”

The money would give the troopers the ability to dedicate people to cover the setnet fishery rather than just responding to calls for service or violations, he said.

“Right now the plan is in the infancy — it’s to keep (officers) on the setnet fishery,” McConnell said. “We’ll be checking 45 mesh and 29 mesh (net depth) and things like that ... and possibly somehow try to find out if people are cheating on their fish tickets or not reporting on their fish tickets.”

While enforcement would still take place in the sport fishery on the Kenai River and in the personal-use fishery, McConnell said the focus would be on the user groups who take the most fish in the Cook Inlet.

“It’s who is taking the biggest piece of the pie and generally that’s the resource group that has the ability to affect the resource the most and that’s always the commercial fishermen,” he said.

Typically, the detachment borrows the Cama’i from a trooper detachment in Kodiak to help enforce fisheries regulation in the Cook Inlet. The the 65-foot vessel is primarily used to monitor the Cook Inlet’s commercial drift gillnetting fleet, while officers monitor the setnet fleet from the beach, McConnell said.

The new officers, or temporary duty assignment officers, will likely be stationed in the personal-use dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River where regulations are relatively simple, McConnell said. The officers who have been stationed in Soldotna or on the Kenai Peninsula for longer will spend their time in the more complex fisheries.

Everyone will need a “crash course” in the new commercial fishery regulations passed by the state’s Board of Fisheries in February, McConnell said.

While planning and the logistics of added enforcement is still in its infancy, McConnell said the troopers were always grateful for the extra money.

“It changes our plans ... it’s kind of like when you get used to doing things a certain way and a wrench gets throw in — you have to readjust,” he said.

But, alongside the new money, McConnell said, comes the responsibility of using it the way the Legislature intends it to be used.

“The biggest challenge, or the biggest concern I would see is not knowing what the legislature expects as a result of that (appropriation),” he said. “How do you meet an expectation when you don’t know what the expectation is?”

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


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