ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Dozens of fishermen gathered in Homer this week to plan a strategy to save winter fishing for king salmon in Kachemak Bay.
Anglers said they were blindsided by a new rule that could shut down the popular saltwater fishery.
Nearly 80 fishermen crowded into a local classroom Tuesday night to help the local fish and game advisory committee draft a letter to the state Board of Fisheries. They want the board to hold an open meeting in Homer and reconsider the new regulation.
Earlier this month, the board adopted a rule to count any winter-caught kings toward a limit of five kings per year. The rule allows anglers to keep as many as two kings a day from November through March.
The new rule takes effect after review by state lawyers, which could occur later this winter.
''Basically the people who participate in this fishery tend to catch their five in summer, so (the board has) really killed this fishery,'' Fish Board chairman Ed Dersham told the Homer gathering. Dersham is an Anchor Point fishing guide who declared a conflict of interest on the winter king issue and didn't participate in the board's decision.
The winter fishery doesn't affect local salmon runs. Tagging studies have shown the fish are ''feeder'' kings from distant sources, passing close to shore as they travel the Gulf of Alaska. Many come from British Columbia hatcheries.
Those origins could pose a problem to salmon-fishing treaties between the United States and Canada, according to board member Larry Engel. No formal complaints have been lodged, he said, but the small winter fisheries in Homer, Kodiak, Seward and Valdez might someday draw Southcentral Alaska into the treaty regime. That would mean bag limits changing every year, depending on the strength of far-away runs, he said.
''The fishermen in Homer who are used to harvesting a local treasure, if you will, aren't necessarily cognizant of these bigger picture issues that could come to create enormous havoc at some point,'' Engel told the Anchorage Daily News.
Homer fishermen respond that their fishery is long-established and not growing.
''A lot of these guys are highline commercial guys who have discovered the fun of winter fishing,'' said Frank Libal, a member of the Homer advisory committee.
State biologists have estimated the annual winter harvest at 1,000 kings in Kachemak Bay. The fishery grew in popularity in the early 1990s but has leveled off in recent years.
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