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New committee takes first stab at erosion policy

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KDLG News
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A new Board of Fisheries committee this week offered a preliminary look at where it's going with new policy on how to deal with coastal erosion that impacts setnet sites.

After about an hour of public testimony, the state Board of Fisheries’ new erosion committee unveiled a draft policy for how the board might consider changes to commercial fishing boundaries caused by coastal erosion.

The board created the committee at its Bristol Bay finfish meeting in Anchorage last month, after tabling proposals from several set-netters that sought to adjust boundaries or otherwise change fishing regulations in response to erosion. After hearing again and again that addressing those proposals could set precedent, the board asked the committee to develop some possible guidelines for how it addressed those, and others like them.

Before seeing the proposed policy, stakeholders testified from multiple communities, and the committee had a chance to hear about the shorefish leasing program.

From Dillingham, set-netters Curt Armstrong, Alannah Hurley and Diane Wetter all asked the board to keep any policy simple, and address each site individually.

Armstrong and Hurley submitted proposals asking for changes because of how erosion has affected their sites; Wetter has said that the if Hurley and other Clark’s Point set-netters are allowed to extend their nets to recoup some fishing time lost as the mudflats have filled in, her nearby site would be less productive.

Gene Sandone, a consultant hired by Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., said that solutions should come from the fishery participants who know the areas, and suggested that any resolution to an erosion issue should not adversely impact neighboring set-netters or drift fishermen.

Participating from Anchorage, Dillingham’s Janet Armstrong-Schlagel offered some draft criteria of her own, which looked at not making changes that would hurt escapement, maintaining the historic number of sites and looking for a fair resolution to such issues.

Board member Reed Morisky, who chaired the committee, read the board’s draft policy, and said that they would look at incorporating Armstrong-Schlagel’s suggestions.

The draft criteria would first direct the board to determine if the proposal was related to coastal erosion impacts, then ensure that it complied with the state’s shore fishery leasing program. The board would also look at the history of the erosion and the impacts to adjacent lease sites.

After the meeting, stakeholders participating from the Dillingham call-in site said they wanted to review the draft policy before weighing in on it.

Members of the public will have a chance to comment on the policy later this month. The committee is expected to provide a draft policy to the Board of Fish at its Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting in Fairbanks, which begins January 12. Public testimony will be taken from those who are at the meeting, and written comments are accepted during the meeting as well.

The board may adopt a policy at that meeting, but does not have to do so, and could continue working on it. During discussion of next steps, the committee said the proposals that were tabled in January could be back up for discussion at the board’s statewide meeting in March, which will be held in Anchorage.

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