The Federal Subsistence Board has agreed to consider new proposals to create subsistence fisheries for Cook Inlet halibut and salmon and to open a rod-and-reel subsistence fishery on the Kenai River.
Steve Vanek of Ninilchik has proposed subsistence halibut and salmon fisheries from April 1 to June 15 and from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15 each year.
"Salmon and halibut have always been subsistence fish on the Kenai Peninsula," he wrote the board. "How can you designate areas on the Kenai Peninsula as subsistence and then deny subsistence use of the traditional species. That has to be against the law."
Vanek could not be reached Tuesday. However, he wrote the board that he agrees with the mission statement of the Kenai Peninsula Resource Management Coalition, formed last year to develop solutions to the perennial debates over allocation of Cook Inlet fish and wildlife.
According to its December mission statement, the coalition's first goal is to "protect our customary and traditional heritage, as well as our cultural gathering rights" by maintaining subsistence rights for people with long histories of using wild resources for food. Its second goal is to protect the rights of commercial fishers. Its third is to protect peninsula residents' recreational fishing and hunting opportunities.
The coalition proposed subsistence fishing seasons from April 1 to June 15 and from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15 for all qualified peninsula residents. It proposed limits for each season of 25 fish for each head of household, plus 10 fish for each additional household member. Of those, five for each head of household and one for each additional household member could be king salmon.
Last winter, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended opening subsistence halibut fishing for residents of Alaska's rural coastal areas and for urban residents of 118 federal recognized Alaska tribes that customarily and traditionally have fished for halibut.
It recommended daily limits of up to 20 halibut per day and allowed use of hand-line, longline, rod-and-reel, spear, jigging and hand-troll gear. However, it asked the state Board of Fisheries to recommend whether different rules should apply in some areas. The council's recommendations require approval from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
It was Al Chong, a Honolulu electric utility worker who hopes to retire next year on land by the river in Soldotna, who asked the Federal Subsistence Board to create a rod-and-reel subsistence fishery on the Kenai River.
Chong, who has fished the river each July for 12 years, said by telephone from Hawaii that he is not really interested in subsistence. He just thinks there is a way that recreational, commercial and subsistence fishers can coexist.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has made great strides in managing Kenai River salmon to replenish stocks and satisfy commercial and recreational fishers, he said. So, he asked federal managers to create a subsistence fishery with the same seasons, harvest limits and methods as the state sport fishery. Chong said he believes in aboriginal rights, but not to the detriment of other users.
It might be OK for subsistence fishers to have longer seasons or use bigger hooks than sport fishers, he said.
"But I can't see putting wheels up on the river in the federal area. I can't see using nets, either. We had a problem with that in Hawaii," he said. "They put nets in the water. It was all in the name of subsistence, and it wiped out everything."
Subsistence fishers caught more than they could use and started selling the rest, he said.
"It wasn't regulated until it was too late," he said.
He said California longline fishers decimated Hawaii's swordfish and tuna.
"They were wiping out the grounds for the recreational fisherman that wants to do some trolling," he said.
Recreational trollers could not regulate commercial fishers, he said, so they lobbied to protect sea turtles, and that brought commercial fishing restrictions.
"It worked really well. We're starting to see a lot of trophy-sized fish," he said.
Chong wrote the Federal Subsistence Board that, "When I first came to the Kenai River, the commercial fishermen were the controlling group, escapement was kept to a minimum to allow the net to be set."
Now, recreational fishers are better represented on the state Board of Fisheries, he told the Clarion, and managers allow more fish up the river. Commercial fishers get a share, he said, and recreational fishers catch salmon in the river.
Though only rural Alaska residents found to have traditionally used wild resources can participate in federal subsistence, there are no restrictions on who can submit a subsistence proposal, said Bill Knauer, a policy and regulations specialist for the Office of Subsistence Management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Federal Subsistence Board will consider Chong's proposal. It will take public comments until June 6 on that and Vanek's proposal, on 2002 fishery proposals for other areas of the state, and on two Cook Inlet fishery proposals it put off last year pending a final decision on whether the whole Kenai Peninsula should be classified as rural.
Until last year, the only peninsula communities recognized as rural were Cooper Landing, Ninilchik, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek. Last May, though, the board determined that the entire Kenai Peninsula was rural and that all of its residents should be eligible for the federal subsistence preference. However, it has agreed to reconsider that determination.
The deferred proposals are:
n One from the Ninilchik Traditional Council, Vanek and Fred H. Bahr to find that all Kenai Peninsula residents traditionally have used all Cook Inlet-area fish and shellfish. They propose a subsistence fishery for all peninsula residents -- with no closed season or limits -- for all fish and shellfish.
n A proposal from Henry Kroll of Seldovia to open Tuxedni Bay to its residents for subsistence fishing for herring, crab, smelt, whitefish, razor clams and salmon.
The Federal Subsistence Board tentatively plans to reconsider the Kenai Peninsula rural determination on June 28, Knauer said. Depending on the outcome, it soon could consider:
n The two deferred fishery proposals
n A proposal to find customary and traditional use for Kenai Peninsula residents of grouse and ptarmigan throughout the Kenai Peninsula
n A proposal to find that rural residents of the western Kenai Peninsula customarily and traditionally have hunted moose and caribou throughout the peninsula, in game management units 16A and 16B in northwest Cook Inlet and in units 9A and 9B near Kamishak Bay. Fish and Wildlife has recommended including all rural Kenai Peninsula residents in the finding.
The board will discuss 2002 subsistence fishing proposals in December, Knauer said.
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