Alaska’s Board of Fisheries agreed to consider Yukon River and Bristol Bay issues out-of-cycle this winter its annual work session Oct. 9 and 10, and signaled that a discussion on alternative fishing gear for Cook Inlet setnetters could be coming.
The Board of Fisheries manages state fisheries on a three-year cycle. The board will talk about Pacific cod in late October, Chignik finfish and Lower Cook Inlet finfish in December, Kodiak finfish in January, Upper Cook Inlet finfish beginning Jan. 31, and statewide king and tanner crab in March.
The focus of the Girdwood work session was 14 proposals for out-of-cycle issues that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and stakeholders wanted the board to discuss this year, in the form of agenda change requests, or ACRs.
The board is responsible for making certain fisheries management policy decisions for the state, including setting seasons, bag limits, methods and means for fisheries, and making allocation decisions, while ADFG is responsible for day-to-day fisheries management, based on the direction provided by the board.
Most of the items added to the board’s agenda for the year will come up in March as supplemental statewide issues.
The board ultimately accepted three ACRs that addressed Yukon River salmon fisheries and two that addressed Bristol Bay, among others. Those regions were discussed in-cycle this past January.
The Yukon proposals will come back before the board at its March meeting, and could change the dipnet size restrictions for the chum fishery on the lower river, update the regulations for commercial fishing with a wheel on the upper river and change a regulation regarding injured or dead kings in the lower river chum fishery.
Initially, the board also accepted an ACR to consider monofilament purse seines as legal chum fishing gear, but after a motion for reconsideration by board member Tom Kluberton, that was removed from the agenda. Under reconsideration, the board voted unanimously against discussing purse seines.
In asking for reconsideration, Kluberton said he based his yes votes in part on the belief that overescapement of chums could be a conservation concern, but learned during a break that overescapement in that situation is more likely a yield concern.
Yield concerns are not one of the allowable reasons for taking up an issue out of cycle.
The board also reconsidered the decision to talk about changing dipnet size restrictions, but that ACR still carried unanimously when the second vote was taken, after some discussion.
Board member Orville Huntington was not present for either the reconsideration or original votes on ACRs.
The board also rejected an ACR to consider allowing dipnets instead of gillnets or seines on a statewide basis, but discussed allowing it area by area, citing the Kenai Peninsula in particular.
Last January, the board opted to allow Yukon River fishermen to use dipnets in the commercial chum fishery as a way to conserve king salmon. Former board member Virgil Umphenour brought forward the ACR to allow dipnets statewide, noting that in other rivers, like the Kuskokwim, Kenai and Karluk, king concerns have resulted in commercial fishing restrictions.
The state’s Department of Law advised the board, in response to a question from Chair Karl Johnstone, that such a proposal could be considered at the Upper Cook Inlet, or UCI, meeting even though a proposal to do so has not been submitted.
Johnstone cited the east side setnet fishery as a specific location where dipnets could be a useful tool to replace gillnets when managers are concerned about king salmon but still want to provide opportunity to harvest sockeyes.
An allowance for that could come forward at the UCI meeting either as a board generated proposal or in substitute language when another proposal is being discussed, according to the advice the board received.
The board also accepted out-of-cycle requests for two Bristol Bay issues.
The board will discuss changing the time period for the single hook regulation for sport fishermen targeting kings on the Nushagak River and changing a navigational issue for setnet fishermen on the Ugashik River.
The board will also talk about bycatch accounting in groundfish fisheries and a scallop management plan for the possible open-access fishery.
All of the issues that board has agreed to discuss will come back before the board in March, with the exception of a scallop management plan, which will be discussed at the January meeting in Kodiak.
The board rejected requests to take up Sitka herring, Area M salmon fishing boundaries and Kuskokwim River salmon management out of cycle.
ADFG discusses escapement goals, stock of concern designations
The work session also included ADFG reports on changes to salmon escapement goals and stock of concern designations for Chignik, Kodiak and Cook Inlet.
The department is recommending a limited number of changes, which will be addressed at the regular in-cycle meetings this year.
Johnstone foreshadowed the discussion that could arise at those meetings, when he asked the department to provide the last several years of escapements in their reports at the regular meetings “so we can more intelligently determine whether or not some should be considered stocks of concern.”
Escapement goals are the number of fish needed to return to a river to spawn in order to achieve a sustained yield.
For Upper Cook Inlet, the biggest change is on Crescent River. The department is recommending dropping the sockeye salmon goal there, because the run is no longer being assessed. The Crescent River is on the west side of Cook Inlet, and one of the larger sockeye runs in the Inlet.
The department operated a sonar on the Crescent to gauge the sockeye return through 2012, but no longer has the funding to do so.
The department also recommended a change to the Jim Creek coho goal, which would expand the upper end of the range. Jim Creek is near Palmer, in the Northern District. The expanded range was the result of adding the 2001-2009 escapement data into the analysis, said ADFG’s Lowell Fair said. During those years, larger escapements resulted in large returns.
Last year the department reviewed the Kenai River escapements out of cycle, and changed the early and late run king goals, so no changes are recommended this year.
ADFG also looked at stock of concern designations. Generally, a run must miss its escapement goal to receive the designation.
Currently, the Upper Cook Inlet stock of concern designations belong to Northern District waterways, and the department recommended adding stock of management concern designations for Goose and Sheep Creeks, both in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
No stock of concern changes were recommended for the rest of Cook Inlet, although the department updated its analysis of the Kenai River based on the most recent escapements, which showed that a designation was not warranted at this time.
For Lower Cook Inlet, ADFG recommended two escapement changes. At Mikfik Lake, on the southwest side of the Inlet, the department said the new sockeye salmon goal should have an expanded range, and be based on video counts rather than an aerial survey because that’s how the run was assessed in 2013.
For Dogfish Lagoon Creeks, southeast of Homer, ADFG recommended adding a pink salmon goal. Fair said there has been increased effort targeting those fish because of an improving market for pinks, and a goal would the department manage the fishery.
For Kodiak, the ADFG recommendation is to eliminate the goal for Little River sockeye, and would increase the biological escapement goal on the Buskin. No stock of concern changes were recommended. Those will come before the board in January.
ADFG’s recommendations for Chignik would adjust the biological escapement goal for early-run Chignik River sockeye. No stock of concern changes were recommended. Those will come before the board in December.
Another Chignik change was also brought up. The December meeting will be the last time Chignik is held as a standalone meeting for the near-term. For 2015, Chignik will be added to the Alaska Peninsula meeting, which will be held in Anchorage.
ADFG’s Charlie Swanton, director of the Sport Fish Division, talked about the status of other ongoing projects, including a peer review of the Kenai River escapement goals, an acoustic study and work upstream of the current sonar location.
The Kenai reviews didn’t find any fatal flaws and supported the department, he said. Information from the reviews will likely be available to the public later in October or in November, Swanton said, and reports on the other projects should be available before the Upper Cook Inlet meeting begins Jan. 31.
A coalition of Cook Inlet users, however, signed a memorandum of agreement asking ADFG to release the escapement goal reports, acoustic and sonar reports and other information about research and management activity by December 15.
Signatories included South K-Beach Independent Setnet Association’s Paul Shadura, Alaska Salmon Alliance Executive Director Arni Thomson, and United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw, among others.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org