King plan hacks at sports harvest

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

The burgeoning numbers of nonresident and guided anglers would take the biggest hit when stocks of Southeast king salmon are low, according to a task force's recommendations.

But some task force members said the group's plan still punishes Alaska anglers for the large catches by nonresident and guided fishermen. And commercial fishermen have yet to weigh in on whether the plan protects their interests.

"The question to place before the Board (of Fisheries) is you need to do something to protect residents or they're going to be eaten up by the nonresidents," said Ron Somerville of the Juneau-based Territorial Sportsmen, which has a seat on the task force.

The 11-member task force, mostly composed of anglers and charter and lodge owners, has crafted a draft management plan to guide the state in setting bag limits and other rules for king salmon sport fishing in Southeast.

About 16,000 Alaska anglers and 32,000 non-Alaskans harvest Southeast kings, according to the state.

Ken Dole, a task force member who is president of Waterfall Resort on Prince of Wales Island, said the plan "does a good job of reducing the catch rates at low (fish) abundance levels."

His resort, which has 25 charter boats, lost about 20 percent of its business in the year following harsh harvest restrictions in 2000, and has yet to fill all its openings, he said.

The state Board of Fisheries formed the task force in January 2002 because Southeast anglers have been taking more kings than the state allows, cutting into the livelihood of commercial salmon trollers.

"The idea was to come up with a solution that would reduce harvest in the sport fishery," said Tom Brookover of Sitka, the Southeast sport fish manager for the state Department of Fish and Game.

Each year a scientific panel estimates the abundance of wild kings in Southeast waters, from which a harvest limit is drawn. After deducting roughly 10 percent for commercial gillnetters and seiners, the state allocates 20 percent of the remaining quota to sport fishermen, and the rest to commercial trollers.

But anglers cut into trollers' catch by 10,000 to 20,000 fish in 2000 and 2001 combined, Brookover said.

Ten thousand kings could represent about $300,000 in revenue to commercial fishermen at 2001 in-season prices, according to fish-size and dockside-price information from Fish and Game reports.

The first Southeast king management plan, created in 2000, became controversial in its first year when restrictions were imposed on anglers after early low estimates of king stocks.

Charter and lodge operators complained that rules preventing their customers from keeping king salmon would hurt their businesses into the future, because customers book long in advance and want to be sure they can keep the fish they catch. Alaska anglers also complained that their daily bag limit had been cut to one king salmon.

"The main benefit to the charter industry is (the draft plan) pushes most of those rules to July and August, leaving May and June alone," Dole said. "Those are the months that we target king salmon because we don't have other species to catch."

After taking public comment, the task force will present the final plan and a five-member minority report to the Board of Fisheries on Feb. 20 in Ketchikan. The plan applies mainly to wild stocks of king salmon, which are governed by the 1999 U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. It does not apply to most hatchery-raised kings.

The plan recommends that the state manage for a 20 percent sport harvest over a six-year average, not year by year. In years of shortages, anglers would get a larger percentage of the quota.

In times of low stocks, the plan places most of the harvest restrictions on nonresident and guided anglers. Nonresidents have taken about 56 percent of Southeast kings in recent years, according to Fish and Game.

Roughly 72,000 kings were harvested by anglers in Southeast in 2001, about 42,000 of which were included in the treaty quota, according to state figures. Nonresidents' haul of "treaty fish" has nearly tripled since 1990, especially near Sitka and Prince of Wales Island.

Under the draft plan, even in times of abundance nonresidents would have a daily bag limit of one king salmon, compared to the current limit of two. Nonresidents would have a maximum annual harvest limit of three kings in nearly all situations, compared to the current maximum of four.

In times of shortages, proposed restrictions on nonresidents include reducing the individual limits on annual harvests and the number of lines that can be fished from a charter vessel, and allowing only large kings to be retained.

But Carl Rosier, a board member of the Territorial Sportsmen, said the draft plan doesn't limit the overall harvest by nonresident and guided fishermen.

"Unfortunately, I think, with the dominance of the charter industry that was party to this, John Q. Public, who wants to catch a fish, did not come out particularly well on this," Rosier said.

The minority report complained that the plan made it too hard for Alaska anglers to have a bag limit of two kings a day.

Rosier also said the plan couldn't address two important concerns: the overall allocation to anglers, and Fish and Game's unwillingness to set quotas for discrete areas in Southeast.

"As long as everybody's in the same bathtub, so to speak, you're talking about through sheer numbers charter fishermen are working against resident fishermen," he said.

Dole, the lodge operator, said that although those concerns weren't part of the task force's charge from the Board of Fisheries, it did recommend a freeze on the number of charter boats. In each of the past few years about 600 charter boats in Southeast reported customers who caught king salmon.

In other details, the plan would let nonresidents keep king salmon caught during the Juneau-area Golden North Salmon Derby, even in times of low stocks.

It also would let Alaskans who fish from charter vessels keep kings even when nonresidents on the boats can't.

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