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Three Board of Fish proposals address management of Nushagak kings

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Izzy Ross
/
KDLG
Gary Cline speaks during the Nushagak Advisory Committee meeting on Nov. 9, 2022. From left to right: Fritz Johnson, Gary Cline, Frank Woods, Kenton Moos.

Alaska's Board of Fish will hold the statewide Bristol Bay finfish meeting in Anchorage at the end of the month to consider 52 proposals to change fisheries regulations across the region. Comments on those proposals are due Monday, Nov. 14.

Submit comments by clicking here

View proposals by clicking here

The proposals address a wide range of issues, including efforts to conserve Bristol Bay’s king salmon runs.

The Nushagak River is the last Bristol Bay river where the state still counts king escapement. Its king salmon runs have dropped sharply in recent years, even as sockeye salmon runs have hit record highs. In five of the last six years, the Nushagak kings have failed to meet the minimum goal for sustainability and are now a stock of concern.

Among the proposals this cycle, three address the Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Management Plan, which is meant to ensure a sustainable king run and has informed the fishery's management for the past 30 years.

The Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Committee is recommending eight objectives in proposal 11, most of which are changes to that plan.

One recommendation is to change management of large sockeye runs to minimize incidental king harvest during the commercial fishery. Another is to adjust the triggers to opening the commercial sockeye fishery.

Under current regulations, when the Nushagak king run is low, managers wait until Wood River sockeye escapement surpasses 100,000 fish before opening the commercial fishery.

The committee recommends increasing the Wood River's minimum sockeye escapement trigger when the river's sockeye run is forecast to exceed 8 million fish. The proposal also adds triggers for escapement up the Nushagak River, although it doesn't specify what those triggers would be.

The Board of Fish created the Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Committee in 2018 to improve the king management plan. The committee met in 2019, but the Board of Fish disbanded it in 2020. Supported by the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute, its members continued to meet and work on proposals to modify the plan.

The king salmon committee said proposal 11 is “one part of a larger, more comprehensive solution envisioned by the committee to address issues plaguing management of the Nushagak king salmon fisheries.”

It said other components include technical analyses and non-regulatory actions, like implementing a test fishery in June to inform the district’s managers of the abundance of kings and sockeye and reduce king harvest.

There are two other proposals to change the king salmon management plan. Proposal 12 recommends requiring smaller mesh size to minimize king harvest and increasing escapement triggers to allow more kings to swim upriver. Proposal 13 recommends timing the commercial sockeye fishery openers based on high tides to allow pulses of kings to reach the river.

The Nushagak Fish and Game Advisory Committee met Nov. 9 but took no action on proposal 11 or 12. It unanimously opposed proposal 13. The advisory committee will continue its meeting to discuss the Board of Fisheries proposals at 4:30 p.m. on Monday.

In October, the state department of Fish and Game recommended that the Board of Fish designate Nushagak king salmon as a stock of management concern. At a work session later that month, the Board of Fish agreed. The department will present an action plan at the Bristol Bay meeting.

Comments can be submitted through Monday, Nov. 14 at the Alaska Board of Fisheries website.

Submit comments by clicking here

View proposals by clicking here

Get in touch with the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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