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Southeast fishermen reach compromise on Taku fish

Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2006

Southeast Alaska fishermen are getting down to the fine points on how to split up a lucrative fishery for Taku River king salmon.

Their new action is prompted by recent healthy runs of Taku kings and the related 2005 decision by Canadian and U.S. officials to open a directed Taku king fishery for the first time in roughly 30 years.

Juneau-based gillnetters reaped nearly $1 million and sport fishermen caught 3,320 kings during the 2005 fishery, according to state statistics.

To minimize future conflict between the fishing fleets and sport fishermen over the sought-after salmon, a group of Juneau-area fishermen spent time this fall developing a regional plan to divvy up the fish.

"No one left perfectly happy, which probably means it was a good compromise," said Kathy Hansen, chairwoman of the Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Their proposal will be taken up for a vote during the 11-day Board of Fisheries meeting beginning Sunday in Ketchikan.

"We tried to make it equal for all user groups. No one gets the whole pie," said Nick Yurko, a Juneau sport fisherman who helped devise the proposal. Two gillnetters, two trollers, two charter boat operators, two sport fishermen and Hansen, the head of the Juneau Douglas advisory committee, worked on the plan.

Under their proposal:

• The gillnet fishing fleet will get a little more area in which to fish for surplus Taku River kings.

• Troll fishermen will be allowed a little more area to fish on the back side of Douglas Island.

• Resident sport fishermen will have the same bag limits they were allowed in the 2005 fishery. But the bag limits will increase or decrease based on the size of the total allowable catch for surplus kings.

• Nonresident charter fishermen will not get an increase over their current bag limit.

These measures would exist when surplus Taku River kings are available for harvest in a special, directed fishery.

There were some sticking points during the negotiations. For example, a few Taku River gillnetters argued that trollers shouldn't have access to surplus Taku River kings.

The group that worked on the Taku River plan never reached consensus on trollers' access to the surplus fish, Hansen said. She has a vote on the committee as a commercial fisherman.

The advisory committee later voted to recommend to the Board of Fisheries some additional opportunity for the trollers, Hansen said.

In contrast, there was general consensus on not increasing the nonresident bag limit for Taku kings, Hansen said.

"We didn't want to encourage growth on a fishery that isn't going to consistently be there," she said.

No decisions have been made yet, but state biologists say not enough surplus Taku River kings will return to the river in 2006 to support a directed fishery.

Carl Rosier, a sport fisherman and former commissioner for Fish and Game, said it's important to realize that every stock of king salmon in Southeast Alaska is fully utilized by fishermen.

"Any adjustments that occur are out of someone's hide," Rosier said.

While local sport fishermen are interested in obtaining more fish, they have a stake in liberalized bag limits, he said.

"The majority share (of king salmon in Southeast) is taken by nonresidents," Rosier said. Increasing the bag limit doesn't necessary help the local fishermen catch their fish, and may spur additional growth of the charter industry.

"It's one of those fine lines that you may not want to cross ... . You may not want more charter operations," Rosier said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com



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