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BOF votes down permit stacking


Alaska’s Board of Fisheries has largely maintained the status quo for Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery at its triennial meeting focused on the region, and Saturday voted against any permit stacking.

Just a handful of changes have been made at the Board of Fisheries' Bristol Bay meeting in Anchorage, including a new rule that will require all fishermen to drop a blue card and register in a district before they start fishing. When the board sat down to deliberate permit stacking on Saturday, it opted against making any changes to the one-person, one-permit rule in Bristol Bay.

The board heard extensive testimony both in support and opposition of allowing an individual to hold more than one permit. But they worked quickly Saturday morning to oppose setnet permit stacking, unanimously voting down or taking no action on six such proposals.

Board member Sue Jeffrey said that while consolidation might seem like a good solution to the current low prices, it’s the board’s job to look farther into the future.

“If we pass this, regulation would allow the 977 permits to be in the hands of 488 people,” Jeffrey said. “Although that would help us right now at this time and place, I don’t think it’s a good long-term solution. I think that our job as the Board of Fish is to allow fair access to the resource for all people, not just in this watershed but the people in the state of Alaska. That’s our mandate.”

When it came time to consider similar proposals for the drift fleet, there was a little more support for stacking.

Board member John Jensen of Petersburg said he is a long-time supporter of permit stacking, and heard more advantages for the drift stacking – less gear in the water, fewer boats on the water, and getting the fleet closer to the optimum number.

“And I supported the setnet stacking the previous couple of years, and I could see this year I wasn’t going to get any love,” Jensen said. “Both arguments are very valid. If they’d probably introduced language or an amendment to the proposal to reduce gear, and I think I did see it after the fact, I could have supported it then, but I couldn’t find it in all my paperwork when I was up there looking, I would have supported it if it would have reduced gear.”

Board members considered, but failed, a sort of compromise amendment that would have added a sunset date to drift permit stacking in a 2-4 vote, and then failed the drift permit stacking in a 1-5 vote. Jensen was the only yes vote; as a Bristol Bay drift permitholder, Johnson was recused from voting.

After the vote, Dillingham drifter Robert Heyano said he was surprised drift stacking got consideration after setnet stacking was voted down, and the idea of a sunset clause seemed like bad regulation, but he was happy with how it all ended up.

“I hope it sends a strong message," he said. "I really appreciate the comments of the board members who referenced the Alaskans first issue and taking care of Alaskans, this is the Alaska board of fishery and I really appreciated that. Coastal communities are having a difficult time, and it’s not only in Bristol Bay, it’s statewide --- keeping residents from coastal communities active participants in the fishery.”

The board went right into discussion of more district-specific changes after making it’s decision on permit stacking.

“For the bay as a whole, this was the issue, I guess you could refer to football analogy, you know, it was the super bowl issue,” Heyano said. “But that’s not to say that there’s other issues that are still left on the table that are extremely important to individuals.”

Those issues include a new fishery near Levelock, changes to setnet sites as erosion adjusts the old boundaries or fishable water, a flood-fishing mandate for Nushagak drifters, and the repeal of the Wood River special harvest area. 

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