The Alaska Board of Fisheries met last week to look at statewide finfish issues, and took up a proposal submitted by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force that would have provided new guidelines for the management of Kenai River chinook salmon for the upcoming season.
The proposal was aimed at allowing harvest of the abundant Kenai River sockeye salmon by the East Side setnet fishery while ensuring adequate escapement of late-run Kenai chinooks.
In spite of the work of the task force, the Board of Fisheries did not pass the new one-year management plan hammered out by that body over the course of the winter. The plan would have provided triggers for restricting the commercial setnet fishery and the in-river sport fishery depending upon the strength and timing of the returning chinook run.
That management plan also included changing escapement numbers from a sustainable escapement goal of 17,800-35,700 chinook to an optimum escapement goal of 13,000-30,000 chinook.
That lower optimum escapement goal, or OEG, was the sticking point, according to task force member and drift fisherman Ian Pitzman.
“The board just could not accept the 13,000 OEG,” he said. “There was a lot of public testimony supporting an OEG down to 13,000. Then there was some public testimony against it. It’s a hard thing to go below (Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommendations).”
The sustainable escapement goal, or SEG, is set by ADF&G, and does not take into account economics, allocations and other factors, only biology.
The OEG is set by the Board of Fisheries and does take those things into account.
Pitzman called the OEG a “mixed blessing,” and said the task force was very split on it, putting it forward on a 5-4 vote.
“That’s hardly a mandate,” he said.
In the end, the Board of Fisheries did set the escapement goal at 15,000-30,000, which is the number recommended by ADF&G based on the new DIDSON sonar count, and reached by expanding the DIDSON count by a factor of 1.31 to account for fish not counted by the old, less accurate sonar beam in past years.
Pitzman said that in light of what the task force was attempting to do, which was to provide as much fishing opportunity as possible for the setnet fishery to harvest sockeye salmon and the sport fishery to harvest chinook, he thought the lower optimum escapement goal was acceptable, but far from ideal.
“If we were just managing for king salmon, in a vacuum, I would not support an OEG of 13,000,” he said. “An OEG allows for what could potentially be a lot of sockeye for the community with relatively low risk to chinook. But there is some risk. And that amount of risk was difficult for the board to accept.”
Still, Pitzman said that considering what could have happened, the outcome was good for the setnetters.
“The setnetters were faced with losing a shackle of gear, net restrictions of 29 meshes, all kinds of things that could have gone badly,” he said. “Short of passing the task force recommendations, this was the second-best outcome.”
Pitzman was referring to RC88, a proposal by Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster that provided substitute regulatory language for the task force-generated proposal. It would limit the setnetters to no more than 36 hours fishing time, depending on chinook run strength, from July 10 to July 20, as well as restrictions to sport fishermen in fresh and salt water.
RC88 also would have closed both the setnet and sport fisheries between July 21 and July 31 if chinook numbers were projected to fall below 15,000.
Pitzman said he was not disappointed that the Board of Fisheries did not pass the proposal in spite of many days of work dedicated to producing the management plan submitted by the task force, and that the process was well worthwhile.
“I think it was a great discussion, a good opportunity for the public to engage with the task force and the board members on these issues, I think Fish and Game came out with a lot of data that we wouldn’t have seen in such a forthright manner otherwise,” he said.
“I think it was a healthy process, and I was glad to be a part of it.”
The Board of Fisheries will take up Upper Cook Inlet management plans again during the regular Cook Inlet cycle in early 2014.
Board action on all the proposals discussed during the statewide finfish meetings last week as well as RCs and written public comments can be found at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.main.
The 2013 halibut season opened Saturday to decidedly wintery weather, with gale and storm warnings coupled with heavy freezing spray warnings for most of the Gulf of Alaska.
Participation was down from previous years and enthusiasm was muted, due to the weather, reduced quota and lower prices.
Last season the average price paid for halibut statewide was $5.87 per pound, down from $6.56 in 2011. The dock price in Homer in 2011 never went below $6.27 per pound, and averaged $6.77 per pound for the final three months of the season.
The month-by-month, port-by-port prices have not been published yet for 2012.
This year, there is reportedly a considerable amount of halibut left in the freezers, and some buyers reported buying at high prices and taking a loss.
In the first 24 hours of this season only three deliveries were scheduled, all in Area 3A, central Gulf of Alaska, for a total of 12,000 pounds.
By 48 hours into the fishery there were another eight landings scheduled for Area 3A for an estimated 101,500 pounds, and four landings scheduled for Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, for 27,800 pounds.
No landings were scheduled for British Columbia or the Aleutians.
Sparse deliveries made pricing information hard to come by, but the crew member on a boat that delivered Monday in Homer confirmed they were paid $6.05 per pound straight for a load of mostly 10-20 pound fish, higher than what many had anticipated.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at email@example.com.