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Board of Fish adjourns meeting on Bristol Bay Tuesday

After a quick review of the Wood River SHA proposals, the board voted on Group 4, tended to miscellaneous business, and gaveled out.

KDLG, Anchorage: The Alaska Board of Fisheries wrapped up voting on all of the proposals related to Bristol Bay finfish Tuesday morning. 

The day opened with a review of a set of Group 3 proposals addressed the day before, as Fisheries Board chair Tom Kluberton explained at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting.

“As we were leaving the room, it was rather apparent there was a fair degree of confusion over the effect our actions had on the Wood River Special Harvest Area,” he said. “There were three proposals that addressed that. We adopted one with substitute language, the first one, proposal 68, we voted down 69, and took no action on 70.”

What the board had done Monday was adopted, roughly, the language in RC 145 which was put together by BBEDC and a few other stakeholders. That was used in place of proposal 68, that had called for the repeal of the Wood River SHA.

That would offer the Department another option to open the Wood River before the manager has to put the whole district fleet in there to protect Nushagak salmon runs. That’s likely an early season option, before other triggers are reached, said area manager Tim Sands.

“That interim step is fishing only with four and three-quarters inch mesh in the Nushagak District, and also fishing in the Wood River at the same time,” said Sands. “So we’re focusing some harvest in the Wood River on the Wood River stocks, slowing that escapement down hopefully. And reducing the effort on the Nushagak River stocks both because there’s less effort in the district, and because we’re using the four and three-quarters inch mesh. And under this new scenario, it’ll be three drift openings to one set net opening in the Wood River.”

Some drift and set net fishermen were upset both by the 3-to-1 ratio, and the requirement for the 4 ¾” mesh restrictions, concerns which were addressed in a separate record copy comment 140 and 149. That RC didn’t catch the attention of the board. Most said afterward they were glad that the Wood River Special Harvest Area had at least not been repealed.

In the Group 4 proposals, the Board changed a rule to allow “chumming” by subsistence fishermen who use sportfish gear. That was put forward by Nondalton residents, who had run into enforcement issues for catching fish with rod and reel downstream of cleaning tables that were attracting whitefish, trout, dollies, and more.

“We did get some language change on it, which I see as a positive thing, but it didn’t answer the whole issue of subsistence use of [sportfish] gear,” said Billy Trefon, Jr. “The State didn’t recognize that, and maybe we’ll bring it up again.”

As the meeting ended, it was a little unclear if that would apply to all Bristol Bay freshwater fishing, or only in the Newhalen River, but the board made clear it did not intend for it to apply to guides or guided sport fishermen.

Proposal 84 was adopted, which will reopen a catch-and-release sport fishery on Big Creek after it was closed in 2012. That had been requested by sport fish lodge owner Nanci Morris Lyon of King Salmon.

The Board also used language from RC 150 to address commercial herring fishing in Togiak. The Department will now manage the Togiak herring district for sac roe and other products, “striving for the highest level of product value with a minimum of waste.” The Department will also now manage so that the seiners don’t catch over their 70 percent quota, and the gillnetters not past their 30 percent quota, rather than trying to balance that inseason. Both changes had been sought by Robert Heyano of Dillingham.

There were some winners and losers from the board cycle, but as stakeholders left Tuesday, most seemed to say at least the process had been fair.

“I think it went very well from my point of view,” said Tom O’Connor, an Ekuk set-netter and Nushagak AC member. “Pretty happy with the outcome. There was more participation from local residents than any other Anchorage meeting I’ve ever attended, probably nearly as many as the Naknek meeting I would say.”

The Board tended to other business after the Group 4 proposals, including how to form its committee on setting policy for coastal erosion and boundary changes.

It also voted 5-2 not to move the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting to Kenai, a heated topic that had brought Kenai sport and commercial fishermen to Bristol Bay’s meeting all week.

The Board of Fish gaveled out of its Bristol Bay finfish meeting at about 1130 Tuesday.

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