Story last updated at 11:50 a.m. Thursday, May 2, 2002

Task force moves toward compromise on kings
by Joel Gay
Staff Writer

Winter king salmon fishermen came together last week and proposed a host of possible new regulations to replace the five-fish limit imposed last fall by the Board of Fisheries.

They meet again at 6 p.m. Friday at Land's End Resort to see if they can agree on a single proposal that will satisfy their own desires for less restrictive bag limits as well as the board's demand that the winter king fishery not grow.

"I was real pleased" with the results of the task force's first meeting, said Lynn Whitmore, who was elected chairman of the group, although much hard work remains, he said. "We'll have to do our homework." But, Whitmore said, he is optimistic that the group can find some middle ground.

Board chairman Ed Dersham, who opposed the new five-king limit, paved the way for last Thursday's meeting by calling it part of the Local Area Management Plan process.

He briefly addressed the panel last week, providing some guidelines to consider but no directives or suggestions: "We don't want to interject our feelings," he said.

The bottom line, Dersham said, is that any suggestions to revise the king salmon limit must not allow the fishery to grow.

Charter captain Daniel Donich wanted clarification. "Not grow at all? Slow growth? How do we calculate that," he asked, when the Department of Fish and Game doesn't know how many kings are caught each winter.

"That's a tough question," Dersham said. However, he told the group, the board isn't likely to approve any plan that allows the current winter harvest <> estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 <> to expand.

"The Kodiak saltwater fishery grew from 1,500 to 5,000 in a few years, and that's unacceptable," Dersham said. "That's why they ended up with a five-king limit, too."

Finding an appropriate winter harvest level that doesn't grow "is always going to be a guessing game," he said, "but you need to come up with something that meets those goals."

Dersham encouraged the 11-member panel, which includes sport and charter fishermen from both sides of Kachemak Bay, to stay away from any plans that might draw the local fishery into the Pacific Salmon Treaty. He also suggested that the board won't tackle allocation issues <> such as splitting the catch between resident and nonresident anglers or between charter and noncharter fishermen <> for three years.

The panel will have support from the Homer office of the Department of Fish and Game, although information about the winter catch is meager, said area biologist Nicky Szarzi. The current catch estimate is based on a combination of charter logbooks and the statewide creel census.

Panel members asked if the department might institute a permit program and harvest ticket, like the one required for clams in Kachemak Bay, which would start providing better catch data in the future.

Szarzi noted that any additional expenses might have to come out of existing programs. "We would like to devote our resources to our local stocks," she said.

Asked later about the clam permits, Szarzi said they haven't provided the data that biologists had hoped for. In 1999, department staff counted clammers on several beaches, then checked the permit reports filed later in the year.

"We found that 80 percent of the folks we counted on the beach didn't report being there," she said.

Since then the department has done more public education and increased its enforcement efforts. It will check again this year to see if the reporting has improved, Szarzi said.

The permit registration idea is one of several that will be discussed at Friday's task force meeting. Also in the mix are several that tinker with the daily bag limit: reducing the former two-fish daily limit to one per day; leave the limit at two per day but allow only four kings per month; or to allow two fish on odd-numbered days and one on even-numbered days.

Other proposals would establish a total winter harvest of 3,000 or 5,000, or allowing two fish per day until 2,500 kings are caught and one fish thereafter. One proposal suggested allowing everyone 20 kings in the winter and five in the summer.

Whitmore said the panel's first goal is to identify a problem statement, then start gathering the information it needs, and last to agree on proposal that it can take to the Board of Fisheries in October.