Report to Fish Board on False Pass Fishery short on specifics

Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A report to the Alaska Board of Fisheries does not call for any major changes to the False Pass commercial salmon fishery, but suggests some changes might be needed to help restore chum salmon runs in Western Alaska.

That comes as a relief to False Pass fishermen, who have been fighting through a nearly monthlong board meeting in Anchorage to save their fishery and stave off what they regard as a threat to Aleut fishing towns along the Alaska Peninsula.

But the battle is far from over.

Alaskans have warred for decades over whether False Pass fishing cuts the flow of chum salmon bound for Western Alaska rivers farther north. Neither side seems to have conclusive evidence either way.

Last year Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles weighed in with a letter urging the board to curtail the False Pass fishery, which occurs in the state manatement zone known as Area M.

In three of the past four years, Knowles has declared a salmon disaster in Western Alaska because of low returns, triggering millions of dollars in relief.

A 55-page report issued Monday by a committee composed of three board members Larry Engel, Ed Dersham and John White recommended against maintaining the status quo for the South Peninsula fishery in Area M, which generally encompasses the western end of the Alaska Peninsula.

However, the report did not embrace any major specific changes, such as cutting the number of salmon that fishermen can catch.

The seven-member board will be deliberating on the issue in the next few days and is expected to take a final vote later this week.

Area M has come under fire at this meeting as an ''intercept'' fishery that picks off chum salmon heading for Western rivers, as well as red salmon bound for Bristol Bay's depressed Kvichak River drainage and even the Chignik area northeast along the peninsula.

Representatives for those areas have spent thousands of dollars on scientific studies and other efforts in an attempt to squash Area M commercial fishing.

Area M fishermen and the Aleutians East Borough have countered with even higher spending and a barrage of local television and newspaper ads. They claim that cutting back Area M fisheries won't cure whatever ails the Western Alaska chum runs and that towns like False Pass, Sand Point and King Cove would be devastated.

Area M fishermen also say their catch limit of chums, which are netted incidentally to the harvest of more valuable red salmon, has already been cut significantly over the years.

''Whatever happens, it'll be close,'' said Dan Senecal-Albrecht, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, a fishermen's group that supports Area M cutbacks.

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