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Day 3: Notes from the Bristol Bay Board of Fish

Attendees at the Bristol Bay Board of Fish meeting at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage. Dec. 1, 2022.
Izzy Ross
Attendees at the Bristol Bay Board of Fish meeting at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage. Dec. 1, 2022.

The 2022 Board of Fish Bristol Bay meeting is underway from Nov. 29 - Dec. 3 at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. KDLG's Izzy Ross is at the meeting. Here are her notes.

Find proposals, changes and department reports on the board's website by clicking here.

Stream live audio or video of the meeting here.

The Board of Fish announced that it would delay making a decision on management of the Nushagak kings until its statewide meeting in March.

That means that the Committee of the Whole skipped proposals 11-13 and started with the second group of proposals, which addressed the sport and subsistence fisheries.

Group 2: Subsistence and sport fishing

Naknek sport fishing

There was a robust discussion about sport fishing on the Naknek River. Some lodge owners said some areas have become congested and combative. Patricia Edel owns the Blue Fly Bed and Breakfast.

Edel: “Fishing on the Naknek River is above all right now probably the best in the world. So the market forces are not going to control this. There's an unlimited amount of people that want to fish the Naknek River for rainbow trout. Secondly, it's very easy for operators to increase their capacity and the size of their business on the Naknek. It's also easy for people to, due to the airport, purchase property and establish a guide service, just like we have. So those two factors mean that the people that are going to be invested in this fishery are going to be more and more and more, and the decision points for you guys are going to be greater. So this issue is not going to go away. I just want to make that point. So we’re looking at you guys for some guidance.”

Another owner, Jim Johnson, said there are more people on the river, but only during certain periods of time.

“The current proposal is for the entire summer when there's large periods of time in July, for example, June and July, where up in the upper river where we’re talking about, there are very few people, I might not see anybody up in the area at all. The only time when we have a big problem is when weather is such that all the lodges in the area, they can't fly, It's not safe to fly.”

Another sport fisherman and resident, Joey Klutsch, submitted a package of proposals aimed at reducing sport fishing on the river and protecting trout and king salmon in the area. (17, 19, 21, 24, 25)

Togiak sport fishing

Another sport fishing proposal (29) would restrict sport fishing near Togiak. The advisory committee amended it (RC 66) to catch-and-release only for kings over 20 inches, limits possession of smaller kings to 10 fish, and closes sport fishing for kings above the Geshiak River entirely.

Moses Kritz said kings in the Togiak have been declining and that many people in the community have taken note. He also said they don’t want to see Togiak kings crash like they have in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Board member John Wood: Do you have a sports fishing pressure on that portion of the river?

Kritz: “Yes. Up from the mouth of the river to Ongivinuk River and from Ongivinuk on down there’s more fish. They're not going up to the tributaries yet. But they're going back and forth and milling around in that area. So that's one of the things that we wanted to slow down. Plus there was no way of monitoring Togiak River. Fish and Game doesn’t have enough monies to monitor our river system. So that’s one of the key problems: There’s no money to monitor. And I assume the department is getting their information from sport fishing industry, how much they're catching. In the last three years the catch record has come down considerably. Especially the subsistence users.”

Youth sport fishery in Naknek

There was also a lot of back and forth about Proposal 30, which would create a youth fishery in Naknek, with some discussion of how to make this feasible for youth who may not have adults to take them out fishing during the designated three days in the summer.

King salmon reporting requirements

King salmon harvest reporting generated a lot of discussion as well. A major question is where the reporting responsibility lies.

Brian Kraft, a lodge owner, said he authored proposal 31 after some self-reflection and that both commercial and sport fishermen should be required to report their home pack so that the department has an accurate count of how many kings are being harvested. Fishermen are already required to report their kings. But many commercial fishermen said that processing tenders don’t ask for that information. Others said fishermen should be incentivized to report kings, or that the board should consider supporting this proposal to promote awareness around king conservation.

Group 3: Commercial fishing

During Committee of the Whole, more people testified about how increasing the required distance between the set and gillnet gear would affect them (34-35). Right now, drift gear is required to be 100 feet from the end of a set net. Several drifters from the Nushagak spoke out against extending that distance. Robin Samuelsen said they’ve addressed that issue years ago.

Samuelsen: “We set the distance in Nushagak, Clark’s Point, Ekuk beach. That was a big problems. And today from the early 90s to now things have been pretty good. And there's some real a-holes in the fishery that are drift fishermen that mix up with set netters. Well, there's some set netters that look to mix up with us, drifters. I've seen it two years ago. Don't penalize both fleets because of these few radicals in the fishery. I don't want to get mixed up in a set net because it's thousands of pounds of fish.”

Drifter Robert Heyano said he was concerned about his ability to judge whether he is far enough off a set net site if the distance is increased.

Heyano: “If I'm at 250 [feet] then I'm in violation. The way we sort of addressed it in the Nushagak. The way is we increased and removed the offshore distances that set nets could operate on from the main high tide. And where they put that mark, that's the outside, that's the distance I have to be out and it's really easy. Whether it's in the night or in the day you see the buoys, they have the lights. And you could basically take your boat and drift right on the outside of those set nets without entanglement. I’ve put 50 years in this season that I've never had an entanglement with a segment.”

Kim Rice lives in Girdwood and set nets in Egegik. He contributed to proposal 35.

Rice: “It is a problem. It's ongoing. We probably had 15 or 20 encounters last summer, nearly sunk my daughter's boat from one of these experiences. So we didn't create this problem. So we came up with the 300 foot as potential deal. It’s not written in stone. But you got to start out big before you go a little and at 100 feet, my anchor is still out 100 feet because I have a five to one scope on the anchor in 20 feet of water. So when these guys come by, they're likely to hook up on my anchors. So being out further, all of us have scope on our anchors. And there are some hotspots and we get consistent wraps.”

One board member said he doesn't see a difference in how increasing the distance between set and gillnet gear would address set netters complaints, since it wouldn't mean more law enforcement in the fishery to make sure people are following regulations, But Rice said 300 feet would give set netters and drifters a bigger buffer.

Another major topic was the towline length for drift boats. A couple proposals aim to shorten the length of the drift boat towline to 100 feet, saying that longer towlines allow drifters to anchor their nets in shallow areas and still control it. One said it was a safety concern

Here are a few discussions on those proposals:

Caleb Mikkelsen: “Our drift nets can travel at over a knot in less than a foot of water — even six inches of water. Water actually moves, especially if you have fish in the net, it’s a parachute. So they are drifting, even very slowly. And a lot of time it’s where the fish are, for a majority of reasons, their nets are in front, there are sandbars. So that’s a huge strategy to use… I’ll just reiterate: This grounding issue, which I don't think is what this proposal is about. We definitely can still drift in shallow water where folks cannot actually be floating.

Chair Marit Carlson-Van Dort: “Thanks Caleb. So you're dragging a net full of fish over a knot at six inches of water?”

Mikkelsen: “No, the current is.”

Carlson-Van Dort: “Well, the current is, but it’s attached to your boat. What does that do to the quality of the fish?”

Mikkelsen: “It depends on fishermen; it depends on if you have your net tight or slack. You can either let the fish tangle up in the web, or you can keep it taut to where the fish don’t get as tangled. It depends on the volume of fish. If there's lots and lots of fish, they won’t actually tangle up the web. If there's little bits of fish, they can. But I think that’s outside of this proposal. This is not a quality of fish proposal, this is [about] safety of net line.”

Carlson-Van Dort: “Maybe not, but it’s my question.”

Tom Rollman set nets in the Nushagak District.

Rollman: “We fish over on Coffee Point flats and have witnessed drift boats going in there in the shallows. Maybe not using quite that much line and setting in really shallow water, sit and hold in it and I'm going to disagree with this gentleman back here. ‘Cause we’ve been in there. There is no current in the flats. The nets just sit there. So setting in a foot to six inches of water, they're in essence a set netter. It may be legal in their eyes, but I think that a gentleman that spoke alluded to the regulations. And they are intentionally setting that net or anchoring that net on the bottom, knowing they go in there in a foot of water. So I think this towline proposal is the limit these small group of jet boat owners from getting into shallow water, in essence being set nets. That's the essence of this. But I do want to address the quality issue, because there is no way if you go in that shallow water, that net is going to ball up, and the only way to get that net out of there is to tow it. And you’re towing on that net – we're talking 1,200 feet in that gear … he was trying to make this economic. And quality is an issue.”

Some drifters said longer towlines help older prop boats fish in shallower waters that would otherwise only be available to more expensive jet boats.

Jeff Burwell has fished in Bristol Bay since 1987. He said that in most cases, he doesn't think long towlines compete with set netters.

Burwell: “What this proposal most certainly does: It will keep some drifters who operate in this manner, if you're talking about high speed or shallow water sets, it will keep them from accessing a very large, productive body of water, the flats, that are several miles wide. And I think that's really what this is attesting to, is a land ground and keeping drifters from accessing certain amounts of water. We can talk about quality and safety and all these other things, but I don’t think that’s what it’s about.”

Board member John Wood: “You just made reference to a land grab… Prior to jet boats coming on the scene, were the older boats fishing the same area or was it too shallow for them to operate there?”

Burwell: “Those areas obviously with a prop boat as the tide recedes is definitely too shallow. So if that water is inaccessible, once those fish, if they come off the flats especially during a holdover tide, where are they going back to when it floods? Right back to set netters.”

Dual permits and permit stacking

Testimony around dual permits and permit stacking (42 - 47) centered on access to the fishery, especially for local residents. 

Brad Robbins of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission outlined the decline in local permit ownership since limited entry was put in place.

Gary Cline of BBEDC spoke about the breakdown of local permit ownership and D-permits (RC70), saying that BBEDC has helped 71 people with permit loans since the program began in 2008 and that 29 of those people have relied on the D-permit regulations.

There was some concern that permit stacking would hike up permit prices in Bristol Bay.

Fisherman and former board member Fritz Johnson said permit stacking would be in direct opposition to limited entry. He said it would also lead to even more outmigration and disenfranchise Alaskan fishermen, especially coastal residents.

But according to the CFEC’s Robbins, permit values don’t always go up when stacking is introduced. Robinson gave examples of mixed permit prices from other fisheries in the state that allow it.

Fisherman Abe Williams spoke in favor of permit stacking, saying it could help address conservation concerns by removing gear from the water.

General district

A group of proposals (49 - 54) aim to create a general district outside the boundary of the east side fishing districts. Supporters said this will help bring order to the eastside fisheries after enforcement declines later in the fishing season. Because it would open after rivers had met their escapement, they also said it would have no substantial effect on sockeye populations. But others who testified said this would turn Bristol Bay into an intercept fishery, where fishermen are targeting fish further away from their natal waters.

Committee of the Whole discussion continued with proposals 55 - 62 on Friday.

Get in touch with the author at 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.