A special meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries called to discuss delaying the new catch-and-release rules for early-run king salmon on the Kenai River may in fact be a way for the state to enforce its new regulations.
The meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday via teleconference. Only Board of Fisheries members will be allowed to discuss the issue during the meeting.
The meeting came after Dan Coffey, board vice-chair, proposed holding a special session to discuss what has proven to be a highly controversial regulation change on the Kenai Peninsula. Coffey took his concerns to board chair Ed Dersham, who then began looking at a time for a potential meeting.
"I asked the executive director to schedule a meeting to consider changing the effective date," Dersham said Friday from his home in Anchor Point.
The meeting came about, in part, due to the high amount of public comment on the subject.
"No doubt it's related to the input we get from people, but it's not exactly because of the outcry," Dersham said.
The stated purpose of the meeting is to establish an effective date for the non-retention limit to be imposed. The board could decide to wait a year before enacting the measure, or it could order that the regulation stay the same.
However, according to a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the new regulations have yet to go into effect. Mark Gamblin, Kenai area biologist, said Tuesday that his office is not enforcing the regulations because they have yet to be signed by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.
"As of right now, no," the regulations have not gone into effect, Gamblin said, adding that his office is taking a "wait and see approach" regarding the new regulations until after Friday's meeting.
"It's not something we're really advertising, but we're answering it on an as-asked basis," he said, referring to the lack of an official regulation.
The rule passed by the board imposed a slot limit on early-run kings from the beginning of the season until June 11. Even more controversial among area anglers is the provision that from June 11 until June 30, all fish measuring less than 55 inches must be released.
June 30 is considered the final day of the early king run on the Kenai.
Gamblin said the department would wait until after Friday's meeting to decide how to handle management of the early run this season. He said using the department's emergency order authority is an option, but he cautioned that there are still other options available to the state.
According to state law, regulations passed by the Board of Fisheries must be signed by the lieutenant governor before they go into effect. Additionally, the regulations also have to undergo a 30-day public comment period.
That would mean that even if Ulmer signs the regulations today, they would not go into effect until after June 11. Ulmer's office on Wednesday said the regulations were still under review with the Department of Law and had yet to make it to Ulmer's desk.
During Friday's meeting, the Board of Fisheries will also consider setting a meeting time to discuss annual harvest limits for Cook Inlet/Resurrection Bay and Kodiak king salmon.
In November, 2001, the board angered many fishers, especially south peninsula anglers, by imposing an annual limit of five king salmon per person in those waters. The move was designed to curb a growing winter king fishery, but anglers say it is too restrictive.
Kenai Peninsula teleconference sites will be announced when they are available.
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