Charter operators lose again on king salmon restrictions

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Charter boat operators lost again Wednesday in their bid to lift new restrictions on king salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins refused to issue an injunction against the Department of Fish and Game's emergency regulations for anglers fishing from charter boats.

Nonresidents and fishermen on charters cannot take king salmon on Wednesdays through the month of July. The department also banned nonresidents and charter fishermen from keeping any kings in August and September, closed some areas to charter fishing completely and limited charter boats to four lines apiece in most areas.

The restrictions imposed June 3 are designed to keep Alaska within its allocation for king salmon under the new Pacific Salmon Treaty agreement.

Collins acknowledged that the restrictions would harm charter operators, but said reversing them would simply hurt other users of the fish.

''If I grant the preliminary injunction, aren't there going to be interruptions in somebody else's life?'' Collins asked Mike Holman, the attorney for the Alaska Sportfish Council. ''Where are the fish going to come from?''

Last week Collins denied Holman's request for a temporary restraining order. The council could appeal to the state supreme court, but Holman said he was unsure whether such an appeal would do any good so late in the fishing season.

Holman contends Commissioner of Fish and Game Frank Rue overstepped his authority by targeting charter fishermen as he chose the restrictions from a longer list of harvest control measures approved earlier this year by the Board of Fisheries.

Along with the list of available restrictions, the board also issued several guidelines for managing the fishery, including maintaining stability and preserving opportunities for resident anglers who don't use charters. Holman argued that Rue favored resident anglers at the expense of stability

He also argued that Fish and Game allowed too little public input on the rules, which he said amount to a wholesale revision of the regulations that will devastate businesses built on satisfied anglers.

''It's the late announcement and the failure to get these regulations out before the fishery began that's unreasonable,'' said Holman. ''Nobody expected the sport fishermen to have to live with these limitations this year.

Assistant Attorney General Henry Wilson argued that Rue was within the authority granted him by the board. Rue testified that public comment generally favored avoiding restrictions on resident anglers.

In his closing statement, Wilson answered Collins' question about where the fish would come from if the injunction were granted.

''They're going to come from somebody else who cares about them just as much,'' Wilson said. ''This is a fully allocated resource.''

Fish and Game biologists estimate charter fishermen would exceed the Pacific Salmon Treaty limit by 6,600 king salmon without the restrictions. The agency would have to reduce the commercial troll harvest by the same amount later in the season.

Dale Kelly, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said she was relieved the state's process was upheld.

Rob Bentz, the Fish and Game's regional sport fish management coordinator, said the blow to charter operators would by eased by localized harvest areas for hatchery fish that aren't covered by the treaty. However, those areas are inaccessible for charters operating out of some remote lodges, Bentz conceded.

The reductions stem from a low estimate of the abundance of king salmon covered by the treaty. Forecasts of poor returns of king salmon to streams and hatcheries on Vancouver Island in British Columbia drove the abundance number down, said John Carlile, a biometrician for the Department of Fish and Game.

A committee of scientists from the United States and Canada is re-examining the data and may revise the abundance estimate, Carlile said.



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