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The Alaska Board of Fisheries Bristol Bay Finfish meeting is underway in Dillingham.
It kicked off yesterday with reports from Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff and public testimony on the 47 proposals related to commercial, subsistence and sport fishing in the region. Public testimony wrapped up this afternoon, with 72 people signed up to share with the board their hopes and concerns for proposed regulation changes.
Testimony centered largely on subsistence proposals, a proposal to extend the maximum length of drift gillnet vessels, and permit stacking.
Overwhelmingly, those who testified favored a proposal that would extend subsistence fishing time on Dillingham beaches during the peak of the sockeye salmon run. Currently, from July 2 to July 17, subsistence fishing on in the Nushagak District is restricted to Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Many present testified that this schedule is onerous for subsistence users when it conflicts with work, weather or tides.
“This summer there were 800 plus boats in the water...and sports fishing in full swing. Here I was on the beach not able to subsistence fish because of the timeline,” said lifelong Bristol Bay resident, Wassilisa Bennis. “We just ask for fairness and equal access as subsistence users. The current restriction does not allow this to happen.”
Support for a proposal that would allow dipnet fishing near Dillingham was mixed. Several who testified supported the expansion of allowed subsistence gear, and some asked that Clark’s Point beaches be included in the proposal as well.
Others worry that the allowing dipnets could attract Alaska residents from outside Bristol Bay and crowd Dillingham beaches and rivers.
Testimony was also mixed on a proposal to allow drift nets for subsistence fishing in the Nushagak and Wood rivers. Several who supported it suggested an amendment to limit vessel size.
Those who opposed the measure raised concerns that a drift subsistence fishery could harm king stocks in the Nushagak District and that commercial fishermen might bring large boats into the rivers while they wait for commercial openers at the beginning of the season.
That brings us to commercial drift boat size.
Testimony was mixed. The author, Mark Smith, was present and obviously spoke in favor of his proposal. He explained that a larger vessel would make installing a Refrigerated Seawater System more feasible. He asked the Board of Fisheries to extend the maximum vessel length from 32 feet to 42 feet.
Some who testified agreed that a larger vessel would help them improve fish quality and keep their ships stable. Several asked, however, that the proposal be amended to allow only a four foot extension to 36 feet. That way, they reasoned, the current fleet could be modified and fishermen would not need to buy a new boat to stay competitive.
On the other hand, a significant portion of public testimony and all local advisory committees oppose the suggested regulation change. Many worry that local fishermen would not be able to upgrade their boats and would be disadvantaged in the fishery.
Permit stacking, a frequent focus at Board of Fisheries meetings in Bristol Bay, also faced significant opposition from those who testified. The proposed regulation changes would allow one fisherman to fish extra gear if they hold two permits. Most who spoke believe that would put young fishermen and local fishermen at a disadvantage.
“While permit stacking may have potential benefits for current permit holders, especially if they have a secondary form of income, it would be detrimental to a large amount of local Bristol Bay residents—not only for residents who currently own a permit and depend on a D-configuration, but for those who are trying to enter into the fishery,” said Tony Zoch of Dillingham. “If any of these permit stacking proposals pass, it would surely increase the price of Bristol Bay salmon permits. It is already difficult for local residents to secure a loan to purchase a permit.”
On the sport fishing side, a slew of proposals aim to reduce sport fishing traffic in the upper Naknek river. Several guides and lodge owners testified that the river is overcrowded with anglers hoping to catch trophy rainbow trout. However, they are mixed on what regulatory means would best protect the fishery and the quality of their clients’ experience. Proposals range from modifying the sport fishing season to limiting the number of guides or clients on the river.
On the other hand, Brian Kraft, who owns sport fishing lodges near Dillingham and Igiugig, opposed these suggestions, arguing that free enterprise limits overcrowding.
“I’d rather take my chances with free enterprise than having a government agency tell me where I can fish, when I can fish and how many people I can take there,” said Kraft.
Kraft also proposed changes to the Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Management Plan that would limit commercial fishing in the Nushagak District when the sport fishery is restricted for king salmon conservation. Unsurprisingly, commercial fishermen at the meeting testified against those suggestions.
The Board has now begun the Committee of the Whole, where board members discuss the suggested regulation changes and ask questions of the attending community, staff and experts. It considered all five subsistence proposals before the meeting concluded today. The Committee of the Whole will resume tomorrow morning at 8:30 to discuss sport fishing.
KDLG is airing the meeting live. You can listen online or on 670 AM.
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