Alaska Board of Fisheries rejects permit stacking, expands subsistence opportunity near Dillingham

Wassilisa Bennis testified in favor of a proposal to extend subsistence fishing time near Dillingham during peak sockeye season.
(Photo credit Avery Lill / KDLG)

The Alaska Board of Fisheries Bristol Bay Finfish met last week in Dillingham. The board meets every three years to modify regulations for subsistence, commercial and sport fishing in the region.

Among the highlights at the four-day meeting, the board passed proposals to expand subsistence fishing near Dillingham. Dip net subsistence fishing will be allowed in the area, and subsistence users will be allowed to fish at any time. Since the 1970s, subsistence has been restricted to a three-day schedule during peak sockeye season near Dillingham to in an effort reduce wanton waste.

Many testified at the meeting that schedule is unnecessary and onerous. The Curyung Tribal Council applauded the decision.

“That was a real victory for Dillingham subsistence fishers,” said Gayla Hoseth, a second chief of the Curyung Tribal Council. She emphasized that users should make responsible choices about mesh size and have a strategy for distributing extra fish if they catch more than they need, saying “It’s all about being responsible and having a plan.”

The board rejected all proposals related to permit stacking, allowing one person to use extra gear if they hold two commercial fishing permits. They also voted not to extend the length of commercial fishing vessels in the bay. Those are topics that have come before the board every board-cycle for well over a decade. Most members of the public who testified at the meeting expressed concern that permit stacking and longer boats would place local fishermen at a disadvantage.

On the flip side, the board also rejected a proposal that aimed to make explicit that an individual holding two commercial drift gillnet permits could not fish extra gear. Members reasoned that the current regulations already disallow permit stacking.

Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik and Ugashik commercial fishing districts will see expanded harvest opportunity in the fall. The late-season fishing schedule will be extended to allow fishing from Monday morning to Sunday morning. Previously, the schedule only allowed fishing for salmon after July 17 from Monday morning to Friday morning. Several fishermen testified at the meeting that more fishing time at the end of the season would likely entice crew and processors to stay in the region longer, making fall fishing more feasible.

The board voted to extend the distance between fishing sites in the Wood River Special Harvest Area from 150 feet to 250 feet. The aim is to reduce intense competition for the first few sites in the WRSHA, which fishermen say can catch far more fish than subsequent sites. The proposal scraped through at the last minute, with Nushagak fishermen meeting with board members and ADF&G staff over the lunch break on the final day of the meeting to discuss overhauling a proposal that suggested solving the problem by setting up a lottery for WRSHA sites. A lottery would have been unworkable, according to ADF&G, but the alternative of spacing sites further passed unanimously.

The Bristol Bay Herring Management Plan was updated to allow the purse seine fleet to take 80 percent of the Togiak sac roe herring quota. Gillnetters will get 20 percent. That is a change from the previous 70-30 split. That new allocation, which reflects a sharp drop in gillnet participation in the fishery, will be valid for three years.

On the sport fishing side, the board rejected a slew of proposals designed to reduce overcrowding in the upper Naknek River. While many area residents, guides and lodge owners testified, and most agreed that the river could be crowded with anglers targeting rainbow trout, users were conflicted on the severity and scope of the problem and the best way to solve it.

Several board members expressed frustration that the board process was unable to address the perceived problem at this meeting. Recognizing a need for action, the board agreed to create a workgroup to take up the matter, and the board will issue a finding and potential proposals to address the issue. The chair will also draft a letter to the legislature, suggesting possible solutions. The board will vote on whether to approve the letter at a January meeting.

Of the 47 proposals the board considered, it passed 12. The meeting concluded one day earlier than scheduled.

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