Chinook cut for charters

Non-Alaskans face new limits

Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Non-Alaskans and guided fishermen will bear the brunt of new restrictions on king salmon anglers in Southeast.

Charter boat operators and lodge owners are concerned they could have to refund upset customers this year and lose future business.

``This is a very devastating economic slap to us,'' said Kirk Thomas, owner of two lodges and president of the roughly 40-member Ketchikan Area Sportfish Council.

The rules also could reduce participation in Juneau's Golden North Salmon Derby and hurt its scholarship fund, organizers said.

Starting Saturday, the state Department of Fish and Game is making it harder for sport fishermen to keep kings so anglers stay within a low quota.

The emergency order:

Prohibits retention and possession of king salmon if more than four lines are fished from a charter vessel from June 3 through June 30.

Prohibits retention of kings by nonresidents and anglers on charters on Wednesdays from June 3 through July 31.

Prohibits retention of kings by nonresidents and anglers on charters from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30.

The order also closes areas outside Sitka and the west coast of Prince of Wales Island to retention of kings by nonresidents and anglers on charters from July 12 through July 31.

The restrictions on guided anglers apply to Alaskans as well as nonresidents. About 4 percent of anglers on Southeast charters are Alaskans, said Rob Bentz, the Southeast sport fish management coordinator.

The new restrictions focus on nonresidents because that's what the public said it wanted in hearings earlier this month, and there weren't a lot of management choices, Bentz said.

But lodge-owner Thomas said, ``Operators in this industry deserve responsible management, and we just feel like this is extremely irresponsible to impose this on us this time of year.''

Thomas said he just started calling his pre-booked customers to tell them about the restrictions. He doesn't know yet whether any will cancel. But many are repeat customers, and it will be hard to get them to come back in the future, he said.

The August restrictions, and some rules set earlier, also will impact the Golden North Salmon Derby in Juneau, set for Aug. 18-20.

``Yeah, it's going to affect the derby because we get quite a few nonresidents who fish in the derby,'' said Ron Somerville, a board member of the Territorial Sportsmen, the sponsoring organization. ``Quite a few (local) people charter during the derby.''

Fish and Game previously had cut the daily bag and possession limit to one king salmon, and had reduced the annual limit for nonresidents from four to two kings.

It's unusual for the derby to have those limits, and they could hurt its income, said Carl Rosier, a longtime participant and organizer. Part of the derby's income, which supports scholarships, comes from selling fish anglers turn in.

``Kings are a key part of the income for the scholarship fund,'' Rosier said.

The restrictions are in response to a 42 percent reduction in the overall Southeast king salmon quota by the joint U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Commission. The state allocates 20 percent to the sport fishery, which made for a harvest target of 27,535 kings this year.

Mike Bethers, a charter operator in Juneau, said 20 percent isn't enough in years of low abundance.

``The state's restricting the highest and most effective use of our resources. The 20 percent generates a tremendous amount of money,'' Bethers said.

The king quota is still under review by a Pacific Salmon Commission technical committee. It could go up or down. But with the sport fishery well under way, state managers couldn't wait any longer to impose further restrictions needed just to stay within the current quota, Bentz said.

The saving grace is that most Alaska hatchery fish aren't counted in the treaty quota. The new restrictions, other than the area closures, won't apply in hatchery terminal fishery areas, Bentz said.

Fish and Game will increase bag limits and loosen regulations -- including possibly the nonresident annual limit -- in those areas once projected returns are more than what hatcheries need for brood stock, Bentz said.

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