Committee of the Whole spars over subsistence drift gillnetting, sport fishing regulations

Nov 30, 2018

Discussions concluded Friday, after attendees provided input on the 47 subsistence, commercial and sport fishing proposals. The board begins deliberations on Group 1 proposals tomorrow. Tune into KDLG 670 AM during the meeting to listen live! 

A packed Committee of the Whole gave the Board of Fisheries additional information on this cycle's proposals.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

The Alaska Board of Fisheries Bristol Bay Finfish meeting kept right on schedule Thursday and Friday. Public testimony wrapped up Thursday afternoon. It was followed by the Committee of the Whole, which discussed five proposals on subsistence salmon fishing. The Committee of the Whole is an opportunity for the board to hear from members of the public and gather additional information on proposals. Unlike public testimony, any attendee may participate – no sign-up is necessary.

On Thursday, the committee provided input on proposals such as repealing limits on fishing times in the Nushagak District and allowing subsistence dip netting in certain sections of the Nushagak River.

A proposal to allow subsistence drift gillnetting reignited some controversy. If passed, it would allow drift gillnetting with up to 10 fathoms of gear in the Wood and Nushagak Rivers near Dillingham. The Nushagak Advisory Committee submitted that proposal, citing limited set net sites on Dillingham beaches. But some AC members, like Susie Jenkins-Brito, oppose the change.  

“I think that this poses some navigational hazards if we were to have folks drifting out in this area," Jenkins-Brito said. "I also think that Mr. Cane had referred to subsistence catches being sold in other areas and I think that this opens a broader potential for that to happen. There’s a lot of commercial fishermen that come in from other areas that have skiffs that may not put a net out on the beach or may not go and dip net. But this is pretty appealing to be able to drift and kind of check it out. I’m not is support of this proposal; I think there’s adequate opportunity for setting your net off of the beach in these areas.”

Joe Chythlook is the vice chair of the Nushagak AC. He voiced his support for the proposal. He said that fishing can be extremely time-consuming for residents of communities – such as Aleknagik – that are further away from subsistence sites in the Nushagak. According to Chythlook, allowing drift gillnetting would help.

“Currently they do the same thing as we do," Chythlook explained. "They come down river and then they’ll peg their net on a beach during the tide. And when they’re done, they go all the way back up to Aleknagik, which is about 20-some miles each way. I think if this regulation was done properly or practiced properly would not just benefit New Stuyahokers and upriver people, but Aleknagik folks.”

Kevin McCambley speaks during Committee of the Whole.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

The Committee of the Whole continued on Friday. Sport fishing proposals on the table included limited guide permits and restrictions on sport fishing for kings in the Naknek River.

Tension surrounded the topics of sport fishing guide regulations, overcrowding in the Naknek River, and the necessity of actively promoting conservation.

The Naknek-Kvichak Advisory Committee submitted a controversial proposal to limit commercial entities to four clients when fishing for rainbow trout. Lodge owners opposed the change, saying they wanted to continue providing quality experiences for clients. Members of the AC expressed concern for continued pressure on the resource -- member Patricia Edel said that it was crucial to implement the proposal now. She also added that it wasn’t intended to disadvantage sport fishing guides.

“We are making ground. However, I don’t think we should wait for the next board cycle to do so,” Edel said. “I think this proposal was well-crafted in the sense that it doesn’t just target guides, it targets all commercial entities and user groups on the river. It is an attempt to take care of the effort on the river. I think it’s a testament to the fact that we really can’t self-regulate, and we need some guidance from you guys in order to protect the fishery.”

Brian Kraft owns sport fishing lodges near Dillingham and Igiugig. He said that he understood concerns about exorbitant pressure on certain sections of the river, but so far, he hasn’t seen a downturn in the fishery.

“In our business, we try and minimize the amount of pressure we put on any one river, including our home river,” Kraft explained. “We try and move people off. That’s our business model. But my barometer is client expectations and client experience. And I haven’t had that diminishing return yet. At maximum we would take over six rods to fish the Naknek River in any one day. So my dog in the fight isn’t near what a lot of these other folks have. When I come to the river – oh, man, it looks like there’s a lot of people there. I still bring my people there, they still have an unbelievable experience, they still catch fish.”

AC member Joe Klutsch also suggested that they amend the proposal so that it would apply to non-residents only.

Lodge owners also pushed back against other proposals to establish new regulations, such as guide permits in a section of the Naknek River. Jim Johnson owns several lodges in that area. He said that the burden on businesses would far outweigh benefit to the fishery.

“For better or worse, the design of most of these proposals is to put businesses like mine and others into a very disadvantaged position," Johnson said. "I think I can speak for everybody in saying that we feel like a guided experience is a better quality experience for guests coming in from out of state or from wherever to come see what we have to offer in Bristol Bay, that they’re more likely to practice good catch and release, they’re more likely to have a successful trip, they’re more likely to be safe.”

There was also substantial back-and-forth on a proposal that would close the Lake Camp area on the Naknek River to guided fishing two days a week. Supporters argued that this would allow more opportunity for local residents to fish. Several lodge owners said it was unreasonable. After hearing from the committee, a member of the board suggested that a compromise could be drafted to close the area only one day per week.

On Friday, the board also heard input on Group 2 proposals on commercial salmon and herring fisheries. One proposal to implement a lottery system for the first four downriver setnet sites in the Wood River special harvest area received ample feedback. 

"Are there going to be requirements to enter that lottery?" asked set netter Kevin McCambley. "Do you have a skiff? Do you have the means to produce what that site will bring to your net?"

Several attendees suggested alternatives; one mentioned feathering the sites, so that the nets would get progressively larger. 

Regarding the Togiak herring fishery, a proposal to increase the purse seine allocation from 70 to 88 percent was met with concern. Robert Heyano, who submitted the proposal, pointed to the surplus of herring in the fishery, saying that reduced effort by the gillnet fleet warranted the change. Frank Woods was the fleet's only gillnetter last season. He argued that under the proposal, a gillnet fishery wouldn't have a market. According to Woods, it could eliminate the gear group entirely. 

The board begins deliberations on Group 1 proposals tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. KDLG is airing the meeting live. You can listen online or on 670 AM.

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