Committee considers fishing regs

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2004

With the Alaska Board of Fisheries set to take up Upper Cook Inlet issues in less than two months, local residents are gearing up for another round of fisheries regulation battles.

Before Alaskans voice their opinions to the seven-member board in Anchorage, however, area advisory committees have a chance to make their own recommendations. That process is underway, and on Wednesday the waded through a number of proposals they plan to either support or oppose during the January meetings.

Many of the proposals discussed Wednesday were fairly noncontroversial, but the committee did take up a couple issues that could become hot topics on the Kenai.

One issue the committee would like to see taken up by the board involves closing the Kenai River in three designated "sanctuary" areas to king salmon fishing for the entire season. Currently, regulations only close the areas at the mouths of the Lower Killey and Funny Rivers through July 14. From the Upper Killey River upstream to Skilak Lake, fishing is closed until June 14.

Committee members said they believe that in order to protect early-run spawners, those upper portions of the middle river should not be opened up at all during the season.

"When you're fishing that section, those guys are home," committee chair Dwight Kramer said.

Committee member Ken Tarbox agreed. He said he believes fishing for kings in the portions of the river described would slow the harvest of early-run kings that are already in the process of beginning to spawn.

"The message is that in the early run, this committee is not willing to sacrifice the run for potential opportunity," he said. "I like these regulations because they slow you down."

Because it's believed that spawning kings are more susceptible to harvest because of their increased level of aggression, committee members said it is unethical for anglers to go upriver in July to take advantage of the relatively easy fishing.

"Those fish are easy targets," Kramer said.

The committee's position on closing the areas was in opposition to the position taken by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists present at the meeting. Because the regulation would decrease harvest opportunities for anglers in an area when a conservation concern has not been demonstrated, area management biologist George Papas said the department does not believe the regulation is warranted. He said the department's stance is it doesn't matter whether a king is harvested upstream or downstream, because all harvested kings are factored into the department's count of how many fish have been harvested.

"A dead king is a dead king," he said.

Committee members disagreed, however, and said that because kings in the upper part of the middle river are already getting ready to spawn, they should be left alone.

"I don't want those fish caught," committee member Tom Corr said.

The other committee members agreed, and the proposal will be endorsed by the committee during the regular Board of Fish meeting.

Another contentious issue the committee discussed Wednesday had to do with the feeling that the board has no place managing fisheries during the season. The committee voted to send a letter to the board, as well as Gov. Frank Murkowski and the Department of Fish and Game, outlining its feelings and asking that the board leave in-season management of Alaska's fisheries to area biologists.

"The foundation of successful management by the state is the concept of local area managers doing the management," committee member Roland Maw said. "... I would like to support local area biologists and local area management."

The committee members said they think having the board involved in fisheries management during the season as was the case last summer when the board made decisions on commercial fishing time in Cook Inlet as well as coho sport fishing rules on the Kenai River circumvents the public process as well as area managers.

"It confuses the lines of authority and accountability," Tarbox said.

Because the board is not equipped to handle in-season decisions on sensitive and rapidly-changing fisheries, it's not the right group to make critical decisions, he said.

"It delays the (department's) ability to react to events in a short timeframe," he said.

Following the discussion, the committee voted unanimously to draft a letter outlining its concerns, with member Mel Erickson abstaining from the vote.

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