Fish board asks committee to consider environmental changes
What happens when beaches and creeks change over time? The state Board of Fisheries says it needs to wait and develop a broader policy before taking action on some proposals.
In a much-anticipated discussion today, the Alaska Board of Fisheries created a new committee to consider changes to setnet site boundaries changed by coastal erosion rather than taking action right away.
No one questions whether Dick Armstrong fished the first Graveyard Point sites for decades. But over time, boundary markers have moved and Graveyard Creek has shifted its course, and sites the family has fished for decades are no longer part of the legal Naknek-Kvichak fishing district. So the entire and extended Armstrong clan asked the board to change a boundary at Graveyard Point.
Board chair Tom Kluberton, of Talkeetna, proposed tabling the change so that a committee could discuss the broader issues first and develop a policy for the board.
“As much as I hate to delay any action, I think we need to consider establishing a committee that would get together with the Department of Natural Resources as well as members from the board and the department to begin to establish something of a policy in how the board would go about this rather than to have the board jump in right away,” Kluberton said during the board’s deliberations on proposal 59.
Dillingham’s Janet Armstrong Schlagel said she had hoped the board would take action at this meeting to fix the issue, which developed as boundary markers moved and Graveyard Creek changed its course.
“But at this meeting we have heard of many other areas that have suffered the erosion,” she said. “I didn’t realize that so many other setnetters were affected by it. So I think that if we are going to set the precedent, we can do it for the benefit of many people. So it’s frustrating that we did not get a resolution, but I’m encouraged that they aren’t just kicking it down the road.”
Board member Fritz Johnson, a drift permit holder from Dillingham, said he would’ve preferred the board take swifter action to fix a known problem, but accepted that taking a more deliberate approach was appropriate.
“I wish we could solve this problem immediately for the folks on this beach, but I’m guessing that what has been suggested is that we take a broader view and a longer-term view because we will be facing this situation again I’m sure,” he said.
Board members referenced again and again that their action could set a precedent for how they respond to similar situations in the future – that was heard in public testimony during the meeting, too.
Similar issues were raised by others at Graveyard Point, and from Clark’s Point setnetters whose beach has grown and are looking to fish a little farther out. Although the issue at each site is a little different, Armstrong Schlagel said they’re all in the same boat.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty emotional thing,” she said. “We’re not just talking about lines, we’re talking about people’s livelihoods.”
The board didn’t set a firm timeline for the new committee's work, but the board indicated that they’ll get the committee set up at the end of the meeting, and hoped for a report back in March, at the statewide meeting in Anchorage.