Subsistence halibut fishing proposed

Council's recommendation would open subsistence to residents of rural coastal areas

Posted: Tuesday, October 17, 2000

The proposal to open subsistence fishing for halibut could have had a huge effect on Cook Inlet, said Alaska Board of Fisheries member Ed Dersham of Anchor Point.

However, he said, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council did all it could to address state concerns when it recommended a subsistence halibut fishery off Alaska.

"The potential before the council acted was for it to be big, but I think they've made it less likely to impact the other fisheries," Dersham said.

He said the idea stemmed from practices in Northwest Alaska, where some commercial fishers have kept undersized halibut for subsistence use. Addressing that situation provoked a review of customary and traditional use statewide, said Jane DiCosimo, a fishery biologist on the North Pacific council staff.

"The goal (the North Pacific council members) have is to recognize existing practice without expanding it or giving the incentive for it to expand," Dersham said. "In dealing with that, the danger was that in places like Cook Inlet, depending on how they decided eligibility, they could have turned everyone loose on it for subsistence halibut. That would have caused an immediate conservation problem."

However, the council's recommendation -- which still requires approval from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce before it can take effect -- opens subsistence only to residents of Alaska's rural coastal areas, about 88,000 people, and to urban residents of 118 federally recognized Alaska tribes that customarily and traditionally have fished for halibut.

Kenai Peninsula Borough tribes recognized in the Nov. 13, 1996, Federal Register are the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, the Native Village of Nanwalek, the Native Village of Port Graham, Ninilchik Village, the Village of Salamatof, Seldovia Village Tribe and the Native Village of Tyonek.

In defining eligibility, the council followed the state's determinations of rural and nonrural areas, said council member and longtime sport-fishing advocate Bob Penney.

On the peninsula, the state recognizes only Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek as rural and eligible for state subsistence hunting and fishing. By contrast, the Federal Subsistence Board has designated the entire Kenai Peninsula as rural and eligible for the rural subsistence preference under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, though it plans to reconsider that decision.

"We adopted the state of Alaska chart of those places in the state that are considered rural," Penney said. "By doing so, we exempted (most of) the Kenai Peninsula, thereby saying that it's urban."

Under the North Pacific council proposal, urban members of tribes domiciled in rural areas would have to return home to participate in subsistence halibut fisheries. Members of tribes domiciled in urban areas -- about 5,600 people, Penney said -- could travel to any rural area to participate. Tribes domiciled in state-designated urban areas include the Kenaitze, Salamatof and Ninilchik organizations.

Al Stuefloten, a member of the Deep Creek Charter Association board of directors, questioned the proposed subsistence fishery.

"Any time you have something that only a certain amount of people can do -- the whole state isn't involved, but the Native people are involved -- to me, that's discrimination," he said. "I don't like it too well."

He questioned the wisdom of adding subsistence to the Cook Inlet mix.

"We already have an overabundance of boats," he said. "We have a few longliners that still fish here. If on top of that they're going to give us subsistence essentially after the fishery, I don't think that's right."

Penney said that in rural coastal areas both Natives and non-Natives would be eligible for subsistence halibut fishing. However, he said, the council also recognized the heritage and traditions of Native people who now live in urban areas.

"It's really a fair compromise," he said. "What non-Natives have given up is, we can't travel to a rural area and exercise subsistence rights. But we can go to the Kenai River and exercise personal-use rights."

Representatives of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Salamatof Native Association were attending Alaska Federa-tion of Natives meetings Mon-day and could not be reached.

DiCosimo said residents of rural coastal communities could take subsistence halibut year-round anywhere within the U.S. 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, except in certain withdrawals under ANILCA. However, they would be expected to depart from and land halibut in their own communities.

The council set daily limits for most areas of up to 20 halibut per day and allowed use of hand-line, longline, rod-and-reel, spear, jigging and hand-troll gear. It set a limit of 30 hooks per fisher. However, it asked the state Board of Fisheries through its public process to recommend whether different daily limits, fishing times, gear restrictions or limits on the number of hooks should apply in some areas.

For Cook Inlet, Penney said, the daily subsistence limit is unlikely to be 20 halibut.

Dersham said the state board will discuss how to collect public comments and address those issues during its work session Nov. 4 through 6 at the downtown Marriott in Anchorage.

"It's a matter of balancing reasonable subsistence opportunity vs. local depletion concerns vs. the effects on other species such as rockfish and lingcod," he said.

There will be another opportunity for public comment after the council's recommendations go to the Secretary of Com-merce, DiCosimo said. Final approval likely will not happen before late 2001.

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