The Federal Subsistence Board has halted new coho salmon subsistence fisheries on the Taku, Alsek and Stikine rivers, but a state subsistence fishery on the Alsek will continue.
The loss of the federal subsistence fisheries "matters greatly," said Bob Loescher, a member of the Southeast Alaska Inter-Tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission. "It seems like we take one step forward and end up going two steps backward. That withdrawal of the rule was not well-known by the affected people.
The subsistence board withdrew the fisheries at a work session in Anchorage on July 10 after hearing previously from fishery managers in Alaska and Canada that the salmon in those rivers, which start in Canada and flow into Southeast Alaska waters, are managed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
The recision will last through the end of February to allow the subsistence board to work within the treaty's guidelines, the board said.
"The action the board took addresses the concerns that Canada had and is an action the state supports," said Larry Buklis, a fisheries biologist with the federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage.
The treaty between the United States and Canada regulates some salmon fisheries along the West Coast because those countries harvest some of the same fish stocks.
The federal subsistence fisheries on the Taku near Juneau, the Alsek near Yakutat, and the Stikine near Wrangell and Petersburg had been included in a regulation, set in December 2001, allowing coho subsistence fisheries throughout Southeast waters under federal jurisdiction.
The regulation allows certain households to take 20 coho a day, with an annual limit of 40 coho. Fishermen must use only dipnets, spears, gaffs, and rod and reel.
Gordon Zealand, a Canadian fisheries manager who is co-chairman of a Pacific Salmon Commission panel on the transboundary rivers, said Canada's foremost concern was that there aren't supposed to be new fisheries on those three rivers without agreement by the treaty participants.
"We just saw this as a potentially new fishery, and what are the consequences?" he said from his Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, office. "If you're going to start something new - obviously we have some views on whose quota this is going to come out of."
Alaska was concerned about the new fisheries' effects on spawning populations and how the catch would be monitored and reported, said Kevin Duffy, Alaska's member on the Pacific Salmon Commission and a deputy commissioner at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
A provision of the treaty requires its signatories to work toward a way of managing the three rivers based on fish abundance. The stock assessments still are being worked out to do that, Duffy said.
"We don't have a program in place to estimate run size in season," said Andy McGregor, Southeast supervisor for commercial fishing at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and co-chairman of the transboundary panel.
"We're trying to develop that," he said. "The point is you need that kind of information to effectively manage fisheries, particularly if you're going to start new fisheries."
Buklis couldn't say how many people might have fished in the federal subsistence fisheries on the three rivers. Any rural Alaskan would have been allowed to participate in the fisheries on the Taku and Stikine rivers, he said. In Southeast, every place but Juneau and Ketchikan is considered rural by the Federal Subsistence Board.
Only residents of Yakutat would have been allowed in the Alsek fishery, Buklis said.
The U.S. government can set its own subsistence fisheries on waters in which Alaska also manages fisheries if the waters are on or adjoining federal conservation lands such as national forests, he said.
Alaska manages a small subsistence fishery on the Alsek, in which about 200 salmon are taken a year, 30 of which are coho, McGregor said. The state also allows a personal-use fishery on the Taku for a few thousand sockeye, in which about 100 coho are caught incidentally, he said.
Loescher of the inter-tribal fish and wildlife commission said the Taku tribe in Juneau has been working to protect the Taku River, and Natives in Wrangell use the Stikine "very actively. And the Alsek River is used by the Yakutat people."
If the Situk River drainage is flooded by overflow from the Russell Fiord, now a lake closed off by a glacial moraine, "the Yakutat people will be relying on the Alsek River to a greater degree," Loescher said.
Duffy of Fish and Game said Alaska would work to incorporate the federal subsistence fisheries on the transboundary rivers when it negotiates with Canada in treaty meetings scheduled for January and February 2003.
Gordon Jackson, acting director of the inter-tribal fish and wildlife commission, said the withdrawal of the fisheries wasn't an issue of subsistence, but of following the treaty.
"We won't resolve it this year, but it's in process, so I'm not concerned about it," he said.
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.