Alaska's Board of Fisheries decided Friday that a statewide ban on felt-soled wading boots amounts to a "prudent and responsible" approach to the threat of invasive species in the state's freshwater streams.
The board, by a vote of 6-0, supported a ban on felt-soled wading shoes by 2012 at its meeting in Anchorage.
The decision is a proactive step to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species such as whirling disease, Trout Unlimited Project Director Mark Kaelke said. His organization sponsored the measure.
Felt-soled boots are worn by fishermen in creeks and streams to shore up footing on wet rocks.
The felt stays wet a long time and carries more river sediment than rubber boots. Invasive species can survive on the felt while boots are transported to different fishing grounds, creating the potential to spread disease.
Aquatic invasive species have devastated fisheries in many parts of the world, according to Trout Unlimited.
Board members on Friday discussed whether the ban would present a financial burden to the state's fishermen.
Since Alaska doesn't have an invasive species problem, Outside fishermen introduce the highest hazard to state waters, Board Chairman Vince Webster, of King Salmon, said.
"We're putting a large financial burden on our population that may not even be needed," he said.
Waders cost as low as $30 but a good pair could run $100, with fancier models costing more.
Board member Karl Johnstone, of Anchorage, said he owns 15 pairs of felt-soled waders and that he would dispose of them in a burning party. "I don't like that either," he said, but replacement costs were worth it.
In addition to whirling disease, species of concern to Alaska's fish populations are Didymo, mud snails and zebra mussels.
Fairbanks Advisory Committee members opposed the ban because there's no compelling evidence the shoes are responsible for introducing invasive species to Alaska waters, they wrote in meeting notes.
That's true, several board members said Friday, but there's no proof they don't.
"The indication we've received so far is that our temperatures up here are conducive to the spread of invasive species, and we've been lucky so far," Johnstone said.
The board's action Friday gives Southeast fishermen an additional year to replace their gear. A regional ban was set to go into effect in January, but Friday's vote supersedes it.
• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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