Federal subsistence board deals with fishery issues

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Federal Subsistence Board made several decisions in favor of subsistence users at its first fisheries meeting this week, but none would mean major changes to either sport or commercial fishing.

The meeting in Anchorage Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first time the federal board has ruled on fish management. The federal government took over management of fisheries on waters flowing through federal lands last year after the state failed to grant a rural preference for subsistence as required by federal law.

In general, the board made limited changes for subsistence users, by extending seasons or loosening harvest restrictions. But only in few cases did the board shut out other users.

''I do think the board is approaching this cautiously,'' said Peggy Fox, deputy assistant regional director for subsistence management with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ''We don't want to unnecessarily restrict nonsubsistence users.''

Fox noted that the board approved closing off red salmon fishing to nonsubsistence fishers in Southeast Alaska streams that drain into Falls Lake, Gut Bay and Pillar Bay around Kake. The move closes sport or personal use fisheries in those areas.

But in the same region, the board turned down a proposal to reduce the coho harvest by nonrural residents in road-accessible streams on Prince of Wales Island. In that case, Fox said, the board decided it didn't make sense to limit users because there were no concerns over the health of the salmon stocks.

In general, state officials, the federal subsistence board and the state's 10 regional advisory councils agreed on a majority of 40 or so proposals, Fox said. But in a few cases the federal board went farther than the state might have.

One victory for subsistence users was the board's decision to allow nets to extend across more than half of the width of a stream for the taking of whitefish within two drainages in the Kotzebue area -- the Selawik and Kobuk river systems. State regulations forbid the obstruction of more than one-half the width of any stream with any fishing gear.

Willie Goodwin, chairman of the Northwest Arctic Regional Advisory Council, applauded the move, saying it simply makes legal what people were already doing.

Some had feared it might lead to people stretching nets across the main stem of streams, which could obstruct the region's limited salmon runs. Goodwin said people fish for whitefish only in the sloughs and small streams.

In another case, the board removed all federal restrictions regarding the subsistence harvest of rainbow trout for residents of several villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, except during the spawning season.

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