Subsistence fishing proposals include salmon from peninsula

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

A federal advisory panel this week is to consider proposals to open federal subsistence fisheries for Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet salmon, trout, char, halibut and shellfish.

The Southcentral Alaska Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council will discuss Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound fishery proposals when it meets Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hawthorn Suites Hotel in Anchorage.

The council makes recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board, which meets in December on subsistence fishing proposals. It will take public testimony.

On the table are proposals:

From the Ninilchik Traditional Council and Ninilchik residents Steve Vanek and Fred H. Bahr to allow subsistence fishing for Kenai Peninsula residents for all fish and shellfish.

From Seldovia resident Henry Kroll to allow subsistence fishing in Tuxedni Bay for herring, crab, smelt, whitefish, razor clams and salmon.

From Vanek to allow subsistence fishing for Cook Inlet salmon and halibut.

From Al Chong of Hawaii to establish rod-and-reel subsistence on the Kenai River with methods, means, seasons and harvest limits identical to those in state sport-fishing regulations.

Those would be a big change from present federal rules, which allow subsistence fishing in the Cook Inlet area for fish other than salmon, Dolly Varden, trout, char and grayling and allow no subsistence harvest of shellfish.

Vanek recently told Kenai Peninsula Public Radio he thinks it is ludicrous to exclude salmon, the traditional mainstay of Ninilchik subsistence.

However, commercial fishers fear federal managers could restrict commercial fishing in Cook Inlet to accommodate subsistence in the upper Kenai River. United Fisher-men of Alaska, a commercial fishing umbrella group, wrote federal managers to oppose unlimited subsistence fish and shellfish harvest. It recommended that "seasonal harvest limits be established which reflect legitimate need."

Federal managers have assumed jurisdiction over subsistence fishing only on navigable waters adjoining federally managed lands. On the Kenai Peninsula, that means lakes and rivers in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest. Kenai Fjords National Park is closed to subsistence.

Along the Kenai River, there could be no federal subsistence below Moose Range Meadows, just upstream from Soldotna, said Gary Sonnevil, of the Fishery Resource Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Kenai. The refuge owns no land by the river further downstream.

"We're not talking about affecting commercial fishing in Cook Inlet. We're not talking about affecting dipnetting. That all occurs beyond federal waters," he said.

In the western inlet, federal subsistence is possible in Lake Clark National Park, which includes upper Tuxedni Bay, and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which includes Chisek Island and surrounding waters at the mouth of Tuxedni Bay.

Federal subsistence is open only to rural Alaska residents. The Federal Subsistence Board classifies three areas of the peninsula as nonrural and ineligible for subsistence. The ineligible areas are:

The area from Nikiski to Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling and Clam Gulch;

The area from Anchor Point to Homer and nearly to Fritz Creek on East End Road; and

The area from Seward to Moose Pass.

Hope, Cooper Landing, Ninilchik, Nikolaevsk and communities on the east half of East End Road and the south shore of Kachemak Bay are considered rural and eligible for federal subsistence. Before residents can participate in federal subsistence, though, the board must find customary and traditional use of a resource and adopt regulations.

The Office of Subsistence Management of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage has analyzed the Cook Inlet proposals. Its staff recommends finding customary and traditional use of salmon, Dolly Varden, trout, char, grayling and burbot for rural residents of the peninsula and western inlet. It recommends limiting subsistence fishers to the the methods, means, seasons and harvest limits specified in state sport fishing rules. That would limit subsistence fishers to hook-and-line fishing, Sonnevil said.

The staff recommends putting off consideration of the subsistence shellfish proposal and setting the subsistence halibut proposal aside. Sonnevil said subsistence managers under the U.S. Agriculture and Interior departments have no authority over halibut in the inlet, with the possible exception of Tuxedni Bay.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which develops offshore fishing regulations under the U.S. Commerce Department, already has recommended creating Alaska subsistence halibut fisheries.

Larry Marsh, assistant area sport fish biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the subsistence proposals raise big questions. He wondered whether federal managers would allow subsistence fishers to keep rainbow trout in the state catch-and-release area on the Russian River and on the Kenai River between Kenai and Skilak lakes.

He said he also wondered whether federal managers would allow subsistence fishing for king salmon in the Killey River, which the state has closed king salmon fishing to ensure sufficient escapement.

Fish and Game already has trouble juggling sport, commercial and personal-use demand for late-run Kenai River sockeyes, he added. A significant increase in the harvest "would push us closer to an allocation shift or a breakdown in our ability to manage the fishery," he said.

Sonnevil said a large subsistence fishery on the upper Kenai River could lead to restrictions on sport fishing within the refuge. If there are not enough fish for subsistence, federal managers could restrict sport and commercial fishing downstream from the refuge, but that is unlikely, he said.

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