BRISTOL BAY (AP) -- Dozens of boat owners in the state's premier salmon fishery at Bristol Bay could be violating the rule limiting boat length to 32 feet.
Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers have issued a warning that any fishermen using too big a boat in the fishery could lose their catch and face a stiff fine and other penalties. The fishery begins Monday.
The problem is because more and more fishermen are welding metal extensions on the sterns of their boats. The extension is basically a trough that catches fish that sometimes fall from the net as it is being reeled in. Fishermen also say the extension serves as a ''trim tab'' to enhance the boat's ride.
Although regulations set by the state Board of Fisheries allow for trim tabs and catch baskets, these extensions appear to ''go beyond what the board intended,'' said Capt. James Cockrell, Fish and Wildlife Protection commander for Bristol Bay.
Cockrell said troopers think as many as 80 to 100 of the bay's more than 1,800 fishing boats could be in violation of the 32-foot rule.
Over the years, many Bristol Bay fishermen have tried to cram as much boat as possible into 32 feet by widening and deepening their vessels. Some hacked their bow tips to reduce length, making them look snub-nosed and muscle-bound.
Cockrell said the extended sterns came to light after some Dillingham fishermen complained. Troopers spotted one of the extensions during the Togiak herring fishery in May and subsequently found more in Togiak. The extensions add about 18 inches to the boat's length.
The Board of Fisheries might consider refining the definitions for baskets and trim tabs at a meeting this fall, he said. Also, a proposal is before the board to increase the overall length limit to 34 feet.
For now, anyone caught fishing with a boat over 32 feet may be charged with a misdemeanor and face possible seizure of the boat, a $15,000 fine, a year in jail, six ''points'' against the fisherman's commercial salmon permit and the possible loss of all fish caught during the season, Cockrell said.
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