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Setnetters, others ask for adjustments to Cook Inlet fishery regulations

Posted: August 31, 2014 - 7:33pm

Cook Inlet stakeholders are asking the state Board of Fisheries to consider more changes to area fisheries this winter.

Fishery participants have submitted nine agenda change requests, or ACRs, which would open up certain aspects of Cook Inlet management plans during the 2014-2015 meeting year, rather than waiting until the next regularly scheduled Cook Inlet meetings in 2016-2017.

The majority were proposed by setnetters, who are asking the board to change fishery regulations in part based on how major management plan changes passed at the February 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meeting have played out this summer, although one would also limit participation and harvest in the personal use fishery.

The Board of Fisheries sets the management plans for fisheries throughout the state on a three-year cycle. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, is charged with carrying out those plans using the tools provided by the board.

The board will decide at its October work session in Juneau whether or not to add each ACR to its agenda for the year. They would likely be discussed in March, which is when the board’s schedule calls for supplemental issues.

The standard for accepting an ACR is if the proposal is for a fishery conservation purpose or reason, to correct an error in a regulation or to correct an effect on a fishery that was unforeseen when a regulation was adopted.

Setnetter Christine Brandt submitted a request asking the board to adjust the Kasilof setnet fishery so that when there are restrictions because of conservation concerns, setnetters can fish along the beach. This year, Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers relied extensively on the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area as a tool to catch sockeyes while limiting the catch of Kenai River kings; Brandt is asking that setnetters also be allowed to fish within a half mile of shore when that occurs.

Brandt has also asked the board to consider changing the management plan to allow ADFG to manage the Kasilof and Kenai/East Forelands sections separately when fishing is restricted to no more than 12 or 36 hours. That was rejected as an emergency petition in March, but the threshold for an ACR, rather than a petition, is slightly lower.

Chris Every, another setnetter, submitted a similar request, asking the board to change the management plan so that when fishing time is limited, fishing in one section doesn’t count against the time available in another section.

Every also submitted an ACR asking the board to consider allowing managers to restrict the mesh size in the setnet fishery when the Kasilof River sockeye goal is being met or exceeded. Every wrote that Kasilof sockeyes are small, and the fishery needs to target the fish that are the reason for the opener — and avoid catching others.

Another setnetter, Joseph Person, submitted an ACR asking for an adjustment to the gear restrictions so that fishermen can use four shorter nets rather than three 35 fathom nets, as long as the total length remained shorter than 105 meshes.

Every has also asked the board to remove one of the provisions added to the management plan last winter, which calls for limited August fishing timing when the Kenai River late-run king salmon escapement is likely to come in between 16,500 and 22,500 fish.

The drift fleet is also asking for a change, which would adjust how the one percent rule is calculated. Under the one percent rule, fishing ends when sockeyes are no longer the target species.

Fisherman Michael Hatten has requested a change to the calculation so that the fleet would have more of a chance to target other species, including pinks and chums. Fishermen this summer said they would have appreciated more opportunity to harvest pinks as the sockeye run ended, and the rule change would likely allow that in the future.

Not every change proposed relates to the management plans as adjusted this year.

Every asked the board to consider limiting the personal use fishery. Every’s proposal would create a tiered drawing for participants, and a 300,000 sockeye limit, as monitored by four check stations.

Every also submitted an ACR asking the board to allow setnetters with two permits to use them in different areas. Currently, a setnetter with two permits can only fish them in one area.

Sportfishermen aren’t asking for any changes right away.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said that there are a couple errors in regulation the board might be able to adjust, but there was nothing major that needed to be revisited from his perspective.

“It’s the first year that the management plans were put in place, and overall, I think that the management plans worked as intended,” Gease said.

ADFG submitted one ACR to adjust fishing guide regulations to better match state law. That change would address the licensing and registration requirements for sport fishing guides so that they match what is in state statute. According to the ACR, not all of the current regulations are enforceable.

Stakeholders in other regions have also asked for fishery management changes.

The board will consider a total of 29 ACRs at its October work session.

Outside of Cook Inlet, five address Bering Sea tanner crab and Norton Sound king crab, three ask for changes to Kuskokwim River salmon fisheries, and two address Yukon River salmon fisheries. There are also two proposals each for Bristol Bay salmon fisheries, Southeast herring and Pacific cod, as well as one relating to purse seine lengths.

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

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