Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 6:11 PM on Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fish board rewrites regs related to drift gillnetters in inlet

By Logan Tuttle
Morris News Service - Alaska

Regulations approved at the Board of Fisheries meeting in the spring were changed late last month after an emergency board meeting was held via teleconference.

The meeting was the result of a petition from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and the Mat-Su Mayor's Blue Ribbon Sportsmen's Committee that claimed the language of the regulations approved in the spring varied from what was agreed upon at the triennial meeting.

"There were regulatory errors where the Board of Fish had approved regulatory language," said Kenai River Sport Fishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease. "When that language was written into regulations there were errors made in that process."

The language in the original regulations affects where drift gillnetters are allowed to fish during certain parts of the season, specifically July 9-15 and July 16-31. There will be time drifters will be able to fish in the expanded corridor, but their time there will be cut in half, with the goal of protecting the sockeye salmon going north because the northern run sockeye are a "stock of concern," fish board vice chairman Keith Johnstone said.

"Hopefully the whole purpose here is to get fish up north," Johnstone said. "There hasn't been commercial fishing up north for sockeye for a long time."

The regulations will keep the drift gillnetters closer to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers to try and make sure the fish caught are in fact heading to those rivers instead of to northern Cook Inlet rivers.

"The new expanded corridor reaches out almost eight miles at its widest point," Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Pat Shields said. "The regular area at the widest point was about five miles."

The emergency meeting was held June 30, and did not include any public involvement. Johnstone said the board will revisit the regulations in October and include written public comments. Johnstone said the regulations will be in effect for 120 days.

"Now we have a special board meeting without public involvement other than the petitioners," Roland Maw, executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association said. "I think this is a breach of public process and a breach of public trust."

Johnstone said there is no way of telling if there will be a reduction in the fish caught for commercial use or not.

"Most people think there will be a reduction, we don't know what the amount will be if there is even one at all," he said.

Shields said the emergency meeting basically cuts down the areas drift gillnetters can fish on specific days in July. He said sometimes these types of cases can travel deeper into the judicial system.

"Each group does not see eye to eye on the issues," he said. "Some of these issues end up in court as both groups play an active role in the fisheries."

Johnstone said the board is trying to do its job by protecting fish runs which have not met their escapement goals, and he said the board's constitutional mandate is "to manage these stocks on sustained yield for the maximum benefit of the people of Alaska," he said. "We don't have a stake in this at all."