After a week of emotional -- and sometimes contentious -- public and committee testimony, the Alaska Board of Fisheries began its deliberations on Upper Cook Inlet finfish proposals at Anchorage's Egan Center Monday.
The board began deliberating on its "committee of the whole action plan considerations," which were a handful of board-generated proposals specifically to make policies in an effort to conserve the stocks of concern.
In an effort to protect Susitna sockeye salmon that was named a "stock of concern" by the board three years ago, the body made a regulation that will undoubtedly impact commercial drift fishermen in Cook Inlet.
The Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Management Plan was altered to restrict fishing for the fleet during certain periods to an "expanded" corridor offshore of Kenai and Kasilof, partially enclosed by the Blanchard Line, which divides the two rivers.
From July 9 to July 15, fishing during the first regular fishing period is restricted to the expanded Kenai and expanded Kasilof Sections.
"Additional fishing time between the first restricted period and second restricted period during this timeframe may be allowed in the expanded Kenai and expanded Kasilof sections," the board amended and approved management plan states.
Fishing in drift gillnet area number 1, an area to the south of Kalgin Island, will not be allowed in this period now.
Fishing during the second regular fishing period is restricted to those expanded Kenai and Kasilof sections and drift gillnet area number 1.
Vince Webster, chairman of the Board of Fisheries, said he was supporting this board-generated proposal because he thought it addressed the Susitna sockeye salmon stock of concern.
"I'm basing my vote here on the best available information we have before us at this time," he said.
In three years this regulation will come before the board again, Webster said, and hopefully by that time the Department of Fish and Game will have a genetic data on the different stocks of salmon in the Inlet.
"When we're in doubt we should err on the side of caution on conservation, that's why I'm supporting this," he said.
Tom Kluberton, a fisheries board member from Talkeetna, supported the new policy, as well.
"I do think we've tried our best to mitigate the impacts on the drifters. It seems appropriate at this time to make a light-handed regulation change to see what the effects are and to see where this gets us," he said.
Roland Maw, executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drifters Association, was disappointed with the board's decision. He said it was unreasonable to try to restrict drift fishermen from fishing Susitna salmon, as the stock is part of the drifters' historic fishery.
Also, Maw said, there is no sharing of the conservation burden of this stock by the sport fisheries.
Brent Johnson, a commercial set net fisherman from Kasilof, said he was worried about that, too. But, he said, sport fisherman in the northern district of Cook Inlet could be restricted by some of the proposals the Board of Fisheries will decide on later in the week.
Johnson was mostly concerned about the drift fishermen being restricted to the areas that are closer to where he sets his nets.
"I feel threatened," he said, before the board had made their final decision on the management plan.
Johnson said he did feel bad for the drifters, though.
"It certainly is a loss for them. That's got to hurt," he said.
The reason for the decline of Susitna sockeye is uncertain, but with the new regulations to try and conserve them, pike, which could be the "main culprit" for the dwindling salmon stock, could be getting fatter, Johnson said.
The board continues its deliberations on the hundreds of Upper Cook Inlet finfish proposals today.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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