Council supports Tustumena ice fishery

Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2006

A request by the Ninilchik Traditional Council for a winter subsistence fishery in Tustumena Lake won backing Wednesday from the Southcentral Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meeting in Homer.

The subsistence council’s recommendation supporting the proposed through-the-ice fishery will be forwarded to the Federal Subsistence Board, which is scheduled to meet in a worksession in Anchorage Nov. 16. Only the FSB has the power to approve the proposed fishery and it can do so at a worksession.

In its request for the fishery, the Ninilchik Traditional Council (NTC) asserted that current regulations do not allow for sufficient subsistence fishing opportunities for Ninilchik residents. An analysis written by the federal Office of Subsistence Management staff supported the traditional council’s position.

As proposed, the fishery would be conducted using under-the-ice gillnet and through-the-ice jigging gear, and target Dolly Varden, rainbow trout and lake trout, also known as char.

The OSM staff considered the numbers of fish harvested annually in the Kasilof River drainage by sport fish permit holders in determining where to set quotas for the under-the-ice fishery, which were set at 500 dollies, 200 rainbows and 200 lake trout.

Even with annual sport fishing harvest numbers accounted for, “this looks sustainable,” OSM staff member Doug McBride told the council Wednesday.

In a letter to FSB Acting Chairman Ron McCoy, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner McKie Campbell voiced strong opposition to the new fishery.

He said the NTC’s request was not supported by new information, that it provided an additional preference to a subset of federally qualified subsistence users, and could result in unnecessary closures of other uses, all of which he said violated the board’s statutory and regulatory requirements and duties.

Nevertheless, after making minor amendments, the advisory council voted unanimously to recommend that the Federal Subsistence Board permit gillnet fishing under the ice with nets up to 10 fathoms in length, as well as the use of jigging gear.

Fishing under the ice would be permitted only in Tustumena Lake. The Kasilof River and tributaries to the lake would be off limits under this permit. Furthermore, gillnets would not be allowed within a quarter-mile of any tributary or outlet stream of Tustumena Lake.

If the board eventually approves the fishery, permits would be issued by the Federal fisheries manager or designated representative and would be valid for the 2006-2007 winter season only, unless closed by special action. Future Tustumena ice fishing would have to be approved under a subsequent proposal, McBride said.

Federal regulation of subsistence fisheries began in 1999. However, for salmon, trout, Dolly Varden and char in Cook Inlet, there was no customary and traditional use determination finding, the staff report said. Therefore, all rural residents of Alaska qualified under the federal program as eligible subsistence users.

In 2002, subsistence regulations for Cook Inlet were established for four species (including salmon), and methods and means for take were made identical to Alaska sport fishing regulations.

In January of this year, a “positive customary and traditional use determination” was made for Ninilchik residents for all fish in the Kasilof Drainage within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It limited subsistence fishing under federal regulations within the drainage to residents of the community of Ninilchik.

Lacking accurate figures about the abundance of the target species, the staff said annual sport fish harvest numbers would serve as a rough approximation of the size of harvest likely to be sustainable. Just how abundant Dolly Varden, lake trout and rainbow trout are in Tustumena Lake is not known. Dolly Varden are likely the most abundant, however, the staff reported.

The advisory board has recommended that permit holders have up to 72 hours to report their catches. Gillnets must be checked at least every 48 hours. Reporting requirements will help build a basis for future harvest levels.

Late Wednesday, the advisory council took up another Ninilchik Traditional Council request, this one asking the Federal Subsistence Board to reconsider a January decision that said residents of Hope and Cooper Landing had “positive customary and traditional” use history for all fish in the Kenai River area, but not Ninilchik residents.

Ninilchik, which was determined to have customary and traditional use patterns in the Kasilof River area, wants subsistence access to the Kenai River area as well.

New information provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the NTC warrants further analysis of Ninilchik’s use of fish in the Kenai River area, an Office of Subsistence Management staff report said.

The advisory council had not reached a decision by late Wednesday afternoon.

Hal Spence can be reached at

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