Nets set for fish board: Commercial fishermen have eye on process, proposals

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

Editor's note: This is the first part in a three-part series leading up to the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting on Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues Sunday. The purpose of the series is to examine the three distinct user groups, the people that constitute them, and what issues matter to them the most.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Dyer VanDevere has been a commercial driftnet fisherman all his life.

Nets set for fish board: Commercial fishermen have eye on process, proposalsDyer VanDevere went to his first Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting in Juneau in 1978. And that meeting was all he needed to figure out fish politics in the state.

"I came to the conclusion there's never going to be enough kings in the Kenai to satisfy everyone that wants one," he said.

VanDevere, 52, is a commercial drift gillnet fishermen in Cook Inlet and has been since the early 1980s. A member of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA), VanDevere also sits on the Kenai Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations to the Board of Fisheries. He is the only commercial drifter that sits on that body.

VanDevere has been gearing up for the triennial Board of Fisheries meeting to discuss Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues. The meeting begins Sunday and lasts until March 5 in Anchorage at the Egan Center.

"I believe in the process," he said. "Not that many places you have that much public input."

According to Pat Shields, assistant area management biologist for Fish and Game's commercial fishing division, there are approximately 210 proposals the board will be reviewing in regard to Upper Cook Inlet finfish. Eighty-one of those deal with commercial fishing issues.

At this year's meeting there's a few issues VanDevere is mainly concerned about that could affect his type of commercial fishing.

In general, he's concerned about overescapement impacting future stocks -- "too many cows in the pasture type thing" -- and managing the fisheries to produce the maximum sustained yield.

"The state constitution says fishery needs to be managed for maximum sustained yield," he said.

Maximum sustained yield, VanDevere says, means everyone gets more fish.

Regarding proposals that could change regulation specifically, he said he's supporting a proposal by UCIDA that would set one escapement goal for the Kenai River instead of the three-tiered system that is in place currently.

"I'm definitely in favor of one escapement goal," he said.

He said he's against proposals that would create a "conservation corridor" in the inlet.

"That one's a big concern," he said.

The corridor in the inlet would keep the drift fleet out and "curtail the fishing as it is now," he said.

The "conservation corridor" is something UCIDA Executive Director Roland Maw is concerned about as well.

He called it a "nonsense proposal."

But Maw echoed VanDevere's concerns about the importance of maximum sustained yield.

"For the Board of Fisheries I think our number one issue is to insure that we have our salmon runs managed at maximum sustained yield. By that I mean we have to get our escapement goals right," he said. "We have to make sure the management plans are developed in such a way the escapement goals can be achieved."

Maw had some other concerns, too, mainly about the personal-use fishery and pike.

"We'd like to have look at some of the allocation issues and that will probably lead us into some discussions about the personal-use fishery," he said.

Maw said the fishery is destroying habitat and abusing the resource. He said UCIDA wants to have a discussion with the board and department on what a family's reasonable needs are in terms of fish for the winter.

"If you're inclined to eat seafood it looks like a typical family will need eight to nine fish a year but our regulations allow people to take 45 legally, and they can do some of that abuse and maybe take a few more," Maw said. "We think it's not unreasonable to bring the limits down to what the average family can consume if they're inclined to eat fish."

"If they're not inclined to eat fish it's maybe one a year," he said. "Why are we giving these people 45 times what their needs are?"

In terms of invasive pike, Maw said Fish and Game needs to finally do something about them killing off salmon stock in various Alaska streams.

"They are the wolves with fins," he said. "The department and the Board of Fish have to get real about doing something with these pike."

He said the state needs to put a pike management plan in place and declare them "exotic species."

And "the board needs to allow the public to harvest these pike by a variety of methods and means, and we have discussions ready for that," he said. "The Board of Fish and the department need to say pike are catch and keep, you can't return them to the water."

Maw is serious about trying to get the state to control pike.

"I'm after the department on this one. They're supposed to be the biologists; they're the ones that are supposed to know what's going on," he said. "Why they're sitting by and letting some stocks go into extinction is beyond me."

On the setnet side of commercial fishery, Paul Shadura, Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association executive director who also sits on the area advisory committee, seemed less concerned about specific proposals and more concerned about the process.

"Our organization is supportive of any proposal that seeks to manage salmon resources taking into account the best science available," he said via e-mail. "We believe that the Department of Fish and Game should play a much wider role in providing information in an open and unbiased manner."

He chastised the department for taking so long to return comments on proposals that had to be submitted in April 2010 for the board's consideration now. Some comments and documents were not returned until three weeks before the meeting.

"Not one commercial proposal is supported by the department or they just oppose," he said.

And he questioned the validity of the technical reports being critical and scientific.

"We rely on the department to give us the science to make informed decisions otherwise we resort to innuendos, anecdotal and misinformation to make decisions," he said. "The resources we all cherish, they are destined to decline as we continue to manage for social values rather than biological integrity, managing for what is referred to as the, 'tragedy of the commons.'"

Shields said that he could not think of any proposals that should be more contentious than the others in terms of the commercial fishery as there are proposals on all sides of the spectrum from restricting to liberalizing the fishery. He said the department usually stays neutral on allocation-type issues.

"When you're dealing with proposals that affect people's livelihoods it becomes serious," he said. "These all are very serious and they all receive the due diligence of the board and people that are there."

But according to VanDevere, a lot of the issues affecting the fisheries can be attributed to man's management of them.

"It's more a people problem than it is a fish problem," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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