Subsistence loophole could threaten trout on Peninsula

Posted: Tuesday, June 06, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Local officials want the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge closed to subsistence fishing out of concerns that some fishermen may use a loophole in subsistence rules to gillnet rainbow trout.

''The problem is a perceived loophole we see with the concern that people -- under the pretense of fishing for whitefish on the refuge -- could keep rainbow trout that are incidentally caught,'' said Gary Sonnevil of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, project leader for the Kenai Fishery Resource Office in Kenai.

''Or, they could exercise their (subsistence) rights on the upper Kenai River during salmon season.''

The rules do not allow subsistence fishermen to keep incidentally caught salmon, but subsistence gillnets could kill or injure sizable numbers of salmon, he said.

The Federal Subsistence Board assumed jurisdiction over subsistence fishing in Alaska lakes and streams bordering federal subsistence lands in October.

Kenai Fjords National Park is closed to subsistence, which includes lakes and streams bordering the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Chugach National Forest.

''We're not opposed to creating subsistence fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula,'' Sonnevil told the Peninsula Clarion. ''But because we have competing interests and an active sport fishery, we want it to develop in an orderly fashion where we don't pit users against each other and create more conflict than we already have.''

In general, before subsistence harvest can occur, the federal board must determine that particular communities have customarily used particular stocks, then create the appropriate hunts or fisheries.

But when the panel assumed fishery jurisdiction, it initially adopted state subsistence fishing rules.

Peggy Fox, assistant regional director for subsistence with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said those rules make rural residents of the greater Cook Inlet area eligible for year-round subsistence harvest of fish other than salmon, trout, char, Dolly Varden, grayling and burbot.

That opens the door on the peninsula for subsistence harvest of whitefish, lampreys, longnose suckers and northern pike, Sonnevil said.

Subsistence fishermen may take those species using fishing poles or nets, and they may keep rainbow trout caught incidental to net or through-the-ice fisheries for other species.

And therein lies the loophole.

The second part of the problem arose last month when the federal board classified the entire Kenai Peninsula as rural and eligible for the federal subsistence priority.

Previous to that decision, Ninilchik, Cooper Landing, Hope, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham had been the only peninsula communities classified as rural.

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