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Subsistence fishermen in Southeast Alaska may be allowed to snag salmon and steelhead trout using handlines on all streams excluding the Stikine River, under a proposed federal rule change.
Last year, federal and state authorities took a Hoonah Native fisherman to court for using a handline to catch salmon. Yet fishing with a hooked line without a rod is a highly efficient traditional practice, a Hoonah proponent of the rule change said Tuesday at the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Council meeting in Juneau.
The rule change addresses mainly coho salmon that were previously prohibited from handline harvesting, biologists said.
"Every Native here has fished that way," said Michael See of Hoonah, who proposed the rule change to the council because of the previous legal action. "It doesn't get more basic than that, other than a fish trap."
The regional council voted 8-2 in favor of See's proposal, one of 14 under consideration in the council's three-day meeting, which is scheduled to end today.
Proposals accepted by the regional council will be forwarded for a final decision by the Federal Subsistence Board in Anchorage at its Jan. 11 meeting.
Council member Eric Jordan of Sitka objected to the handline proposal because he worries coho seeking refuge in streams would be overharvested.
Thomas Morphet, a subsistence outreach coordinator for the United Fishermen of Alaska, said the proposal is significant because it defines and approves snagging in streams under federal subsistence rules.
Among other proposals voted on by the council Tuesday was one by Hoonah resident Wanda Culp to eliminate some of the reporting requirements for harvesting fish for traditional and religious ceremonies.
After a four-hour debate, the council unanimously approved an amended version of Culp's proposal. The current proposal would reduce detailed reporting requirements so subsistence users will only have to inform a federal fisheries manager of an attempt to gather fish for ceremonial use. The ceremonial harvest rule covers fishing out of season and above bag limits.
The council will discuss additional proposals at its final session today at the Vocational Training and Resource Center on Hospital Drive.
One of the major proposals, according to federal biologists, is to increase bag limits for brook trout and grayling and liberalize federal regulations for Dolly Varden char and cutthroat and rainbow trout.
The proponent of the proposal, council chairman John Littlefield of Sitka, says that subsistence use of trout has been marginalized in current regulations.
According to the council's analysis of his proposal, Littlefield "states that many want to eat trout, and that the best trout for eating are not the larger fish" that are allowed, but smaller trout about 12 inches long.
A current version of Littlefield's proposal would eliminate the harvest limit, the size limit and the closed season for Dolly Varden. Among other provisions, It would also eliminate the closed season and size limit for cutthroat, brook and rainbow trout and grayling.