Plan caps fishing on Karluk River

Posted: Friday, December 13, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An Alaska Native regional corporation and the federal government have reached an agreement for a 10-year conservation easement allowing limited public access to the Karluk River.

The Karluk, located in southwestern Kodiak Island, is a popular salmon and steelhead river in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The agreement caps the number of anglers who can fish the river during certain times of the year.

Koniag Inc., the regional Native corporation, owns land along the river. Under the 10-year easement, the public will be allowed onto 57,500 acres of Koniag land that flanks not only the Karluk but also the Sturgeon River and Karluk Lake, inside the refuge.

In exchange for allowing public access and not developing the land, Koniag will receive annual payments from a $30 million fund set up by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The first payment will total $372,100 and will increase annually until capping out at $744,200, said Steve Shuck, a real estate officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If Koniag decides to sell the land to the government after the easement ends, the company would receive the entire fund.

Both the feds and Native executives praised the agreement.

''It'll be better for the public and better for the river,'' said Leslie Kerr, manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Fishing pressure has mounted on the Karluk and Koniag Inc. hasn't been able to provide adequate law enforcement and management, Kerr said. Fire pits, garbage and other junk have started to pile up, especially around the best fishing holes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has long wanted to buy Koniag's riverfront land to better protect the fish and brown bear habitat.

Dennis Metrokin, Koniag's president, said Wednesday that the easement has the potential to be a win-win situation for the river, the company, its shareholders and the public.

''We want to protect the resource, so we're going to count on the federal agency to uphold their end and we've agreed to certain limitations, including access to the river at certain times of the year,'' Metrokin said.

Not only will Koniag not develop the land over the life of the agreement, but the company also agreed to a limited entry system whereby only 70 fishing permits will be issued during peak king salmon season, from June 10 to July 15. The permits will be divided between guided and nonguided anglers.

There was no limit before the new agreement, though anyone who wanted access to Koniag land paid a $125 fee, good for one year.

The lack of management led to growing conflicts and concern about the health of the Karluk, which produces all fives species of Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead and Dolly Varden, Shuck said.

Koniag can opt out of the new agreement after five years if management feels shareholder interests are being hurt. Several shareholders who live in the nearby villages of Larsen Bay and Karluk are fishing guides, Metrokin said, and there are questions about whether the limited entry system will help or hinder those businesses.

''This is a good test. After five years, we'll know if it's working or not,'' he said.

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