Fish board tackles Nush changes, creates Alagnak fishery

Dec 7, 2015

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries kept busy today, deliberating about 20 changes to Bristol Bay’s commercial fisheries, although only a few passed.

Board of fisheries member Fritz Johnson (center) listens to the board discuss a proposal addressing the Wood River Special Harvest Area with set-netters Kevin McCambley and Mike Davis in Anchorage on Dec. 7, 2015. Johnson, of Dillingham, recused himself from voting on the proposal.
Credit KDLG News

In a full day of deliberations on Monday, the Alaska Board of Fisheries considered about 20 proposals that addressed specific Bristol Bay fishing districts.

The board passed a couple Nushagak-specific proposals: one that changes the coho management plan, and another to change the Wood River Special Harvest Area.

Originally, proposal 68 was supposed to repeal the Wood River Special Harvest Area entirely. But the version that passed in a 7-0 vote used compromise language provided by stakeholders and an amendment suggested by board member Fritz Johnson; it would close a section of the special harvest area to protect subsistence fishing, and contains language on how and when to use the area --- including a 3:1 ratio of drift to set-net openers.

But then, in one of the stranger things that happened at the end of a long day ---  Johnson asked to be recused on the next proposal addressing the same area, which happened to include some of the same mechanisms.

“I see that we did adopt that language in the last proposal, but if we vote on it or not, it affirms this position and I could see this might be questioned in terms of perception,” he said. “I’d prefer not to vote on this one in any capacity.”

The board eventually failed that second proposal in a 0-6 vote, although it contained similar provisions to the one that had just passed.

What was also notable were the proposals that didn’t pass. Dillingham drifter Robert Heyano withdrew his request to start Nushagak District drift openings one hour before high tide, saying he and the department couldn’t come to an agreement on how it would work, but that he’d likely bring the issue up again in the future.

And there was a lengthy discussion of changing a boundary line at Graveyard Creek in the Naknek-Kvichak District, with board members looking at a diagram and talking about where to put the new line. In the end, that failed. That means the Grossi brothers still won’t be able to fish their set-net sites, Gus Grossi said after the meeting.

“We’ve both been fishing for over 40-something years, since we were children,” he said. "And we don’t have a site. We have boats and equipment.”

The board also tabled two proposals. One was from the Armstrong family, seeking to include its historic sites in the Graveyard Point fishery. The other was from Clark’s Point set-netter Alannah Hurley, looking to extend some setnet sites at Clark’s where the mudflats have filled in with silt. Those are on hold until a new committee figures out what to do about the broader question of the environment adjusting lines in the sand.

The board agreed to create a management plan for the Alagnak River that would allow commercial fishing after the sockeye escapement goal there is met.

Fish and Game initially opposed the proposal, but said they could support it after hearing a commitment to fund the proposal.

Chair Tom Kluberton said the Levelock Village Council, which requested the fishery, and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. agreed to help pay the costs of managing the new fishery, including counting sockeye and kings.

During public testimony, representatives from Levelock said they wanted to see the fishery opened up to support a processing plant that is planned there. Johnson said he wholeheartedly supported the endeavor.

“The fish returning to the Alagnak system at least episodically are huge, and for that harvestable surplus to be essentially relegated to a foregone harvest I think is a mistake and I really believe that this has the potential for a positive economic development within the region,” he said.

The board also passed a proposal that removed a reference to king and sockeye escapement goals in the Togiak District, since there isn’t funding for the counting tower there.