Web posted Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Winter kings not part of annual limit


ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state Board of Fisheries has reversed a controversial decision and will allow anglers to continue catching king salmon in winter without deducting them from a five-king annual limit.

Small winter king fisheries have developed in Homer, Seward and Kodiak, targeting feeder kings passing through local waters rather than local spawning runs that appear in summer.

The Fish Board attempted last November to rein in those growing fisheries last November when it voted to begin counting winter kings as part of a five-fish annual limit for each angler. The new policy drew howls of protest from the communities. Fishermen complained a favorite form of winter recreation -- and a chance to eat fresh fish -- was being taken away for no biological reason.

On Monday, the board reversed itself, though it attempted in other ways to keep the winter fisheries from growing too large.

In Kachemak Bay and lower Cook Inlet, individual anglers will have daily bag limits in winter but won't have to keep track of their totals until April 1, when the summer season begins. Seward and Kodiak will have daily bag limits in salt water with no seasonal limits.

However, last year's short-lived rules will be in place for the next few months until the new rules can be implemented, state officials said.

The board largely went along with proposals drawn up by local task forces, said Barry Stratton, regional sportfish biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game. Each group came up with its own distinct plan.

''We think it's going to be smooth sailing for the next three years,'' said Stratton. After that, the board is scheduled to take a fresh look at the fisheries.

The new rules set a two-fish daily bag limit for winter in the Homer area, with a guideline harvest of 3,000 kings per winter. State biologists have estimated the past catch at 1,000 to 2,000 kings each winter.

From April 1-Sept. 30, Cook Inlet anglers will still be limited to five kings.

Outside Seward's Resurrection Bay, the daily bag limit for kings is reduced from two fish to one year-round. In the bay, where a terminal harvest area targets hatchery-reared kings, the limit will be two fish per day in summer and one in winter.

For Kodiak, the limit was dropped from three fish per day to two, year-round, with a guideline harvest level in the marine fishery of 8,000 kings.

''The communities did a great job offering written and public testimony to the board,'' Stratton said. ''It was very impressive. The public process worked.''

Daniel Donich, a Homer charter boat captain who testified, called the board's decision to reverse itself generous. But he said the yearlong battle could have been avoided if the board had sought community input last November.

Fishermen complained they were blindsided when the board took its original action with little notice or public participation. Fish and Game advisory committees from all the towns had opposed limiting the winter fisheries.

''You'd think that would be a big red flag,'' Donich said.

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