Winter king fishery back before board

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2002

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will revisit controversial limits imposed on the harvest of so-called "winter" king salmon in Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Alaska at its regularly scheduled meeting Sunday and Monday at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage.

The regulations, passed by the board last November, imposed a five-fish limit on kings caught in Cook Inlet, Resurrection Bay and Kodiak. The board claimed it had to impose the limits in order to curb a growing fishery.

The move infuriated local recreational fishers, who claimed the move had no biological basis, and effectively ended the winter king fishery. Among the groups opposed to the measure were the Fish and Game Advisory boards in Kenai and Homer.

The board will consider proposals from three local area management plan (LAMP) task force committees that would allow anglers to again harvest the kings without an annual harvest limit.

Under the lower Cook Inlet plan, submitted by the Homer-area LAMP task force, the seasonal limit on king salmon would remain five fish between March 15 and Oct. 1. However, between Oct. 2. and March 14, seasonal limits would not apply.

Homer LAMP task force member Frank Libal said Wednesday he's optimistic the board will go along with the task force's plan.

"We're fairly confident," Libal said. "In our estimation, there was never any reason to change it."

Task forces were set up in Homer, Seward and Kodiak following passage of the new regulation after fishers complained bitterly that the rules were imposed against the will of locals and without biological necessity. All three committees submitted similar plans, with the main objective of removing the seasonal five-king limit.

The plan submitted by the Kodiak LAMP committee includes a provision for a "harvest guideline" of 10,000 fish in the Kodiak area fishery. Any such plan for Cook Inlet could have such a provision, and the board has broad discretionary power over what those limits might be.

It is believed that the fish targeted by the winter fisheries are "feeder" kings that originate at hatcheries in Canada, rather than kings destined for Alaska spawning grounds. In past years, the harvest of feeder kings in Cook Inlet has been estimated at less than 3,000 kings per winter.

Libal said he expects at least 20 Homer-area fishers to attend the board meeting to emphasize the point that fishers are opposed to a year-round seasonal limit on saltwater kings.

"We're going to have a fair number of people there," he said.

If the board does decide to nix the seasonal harvest limit it imposed in February, Libal said peninsula anglers can consider it a victory for the rights of local fishers.

"Hopefully, (the board will) learn something from this," Libal said.

However, he noted nothing is assured until a vote is taken by the seven-member board.

"You never know," he said. "We'll see what happens."

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