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Board of Fish adjusts Bristol Bay set net boundaries

Mike Mason

After months of discussion, committee meetings and new criteria - the state fish board changed some set net boundaries in Bristol Bay in response to erosion that's occurred in the past decades.

Months after the issue was first raised, the state Board of Fisheries made a decision on set net sites affected by erosion.

In December, Bristol Bay set-netters went to the board looking for help after erosion had taken its toll on boundaries at their commercial fishing sites. And on March 11, at its statewide meeting and the final regular meeting for board members Fritz Johnson, Tom Kluberton and Bob Mumford, the board agreed to adjust the lines as requested by the affected fishermen, with some modifications.

That came after several rounds of discussion and public testimony, and adoption at the board’s Alaska Peninsula meeting in February of new criteria to guide decisions on proposals spurred by environmental change.

Board member Orville Huntington, of Huslia, said the board had developed a good set of criteria for vetting both of the proposals.

“The criteria developed, and the way we went about looking at each other’s arguments, I think it’s a good process,” he said.

Board member Tom Kluberton said he thinks the new criteria will get more use in the years to come.

“We’ll see more of these [proposals]," Kluberton said. "Talking to the draftsman yesterday, he recounted two or three more places around the state, one I think was at Togiak, where there’s a line where coordinates change and a setnet sites in the wrong spot now and my advice was, well, get a proposal in. Don’t wait. Don’t give it 20 years. Get that on in here and let the board evaluate it.”

The Armstrong family requested one of the changes, at Graveyard Point where the family has fished for decades, but recently learned that their historic site was beyond the bounds of the legal Naknek-Kvichak fishing district.

This summer, that site will once again be legal after a 6-1 vote to adjust the boundary there.

Board member Bob Mumford was the sole no vote.

“Part of the cloudy area in my mind is the impact it may have down the beach,” Mumford said. “…I know scooting lines around can seem pretty innocuous, but it can be more profound than we think sometimes…I’m more comfortable leaving it as is and letting them adapt a little bit.”

Johnson, of Dillingham, said he supported the change, in part because decades of fishing passed before the family was told that their site was illegal.

“It was only recently that this gear and this site was removed from the water. I think that history really counts for a lot,” Johnson said.

At Clark’s Point, the mud flats have filled in, reducing the fishing time at several sites. This summer, the board will allow set-netters there to put their nets farther out into the ocean, restoring some of the fishing time that has been lost over time, although they’ll still have to ask the state Department of Natural Resources to change their leases, too.

Speaking in favor of the proposal, board member Sue Jeffrey, of Kodiak, said it appeared to address all of the new erosion criteria the board had adopted in late February.

Mumford said that while he was concerned about the regulatory process having the potential to harm some fishermen while helping others, he thought the Clark’s Point proposal was thoroughly vetted.

“I’d like to applaud the proposer, it sounds like she’s contacted a lot of the users, I think you’ve done a really good job doing your homework and bringing it to us,” Mumford said before adding that he’d have to reluctantly vote in favor of the proposal.

Johnson said he was also comforted that changes to the sites would still go through the Department of Natural Resources shore lease program.

Other BOF actions at the statewide meeting

The board also considered a variety of other proposals at the meeting, but did not make as many changes as were requested.

The board voted unanimously to create a jig fishery for pollock in state waters. As amended and passed, the board created new pollock fisheries for the Chigniks, Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak. The new fisheries are still experimental, and will require a commissioner’s permit to participate. 

The board also opposed additional marking requirements for set net sites.

Proposed changes to herring fisheries also failed: the board voted against designating Pacific herring as a forage fish, and took no action on a proposal that would have prevented directed fishing on forage fish if they were going to be used for fish meal.

The board did vote in favor of some changes to sport fishing regulations. The board agreed unanimously to clarify the definition of an artificial fly so that it includes a bare hook, and clarified that a bead that isn’t attached to a hook isn’t a lure or fly.

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