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Board of Fisheries to consider sablefish, herring changes

Board scheduled to meet Jan. 20 in Sitka

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

The state Board of Fisheries next month will consider extending the commercial sablefish season in Chatham Strait, creating a roe-on-kelp herring fishery in Berners Bay, and giving Southeast fishermen more access to bait herring.

Board of Fisheries information

• Copies of the Board of Fisheries proposals for Southeast are available online at: www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH.GAME/boards/fishinfo/meetinfo/janprop.pdf

• Comments can be sent to:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Boards Support Section

PO Box 25526

Juneau, AK 99802-5526

The Board of Fisheries is scheduled to meet Jan. 20-29 in Sitka to deal with groundfish, herring, subsistence and shellfish issues in Southeast. The board will consider Southeast salmon proposals at a meeting in February in Ketchikan.

Juneau fisherman Randy Beason and 37 other permit holders offered a proposal to increase the Chatham sablefish, or black cod, fishery south of Juneau from two and a half months to eight. The change would correspond with the federal sablefish season and put Alaska fishermen in a better position against an emerging farmed market, they said.

The Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which has been commenting on the proposals this month, favored the change at a meeting last week. But much of the discussion centered on the possibility the quota could be cut.

Sablefish are highly prized for their oil content and can bring Southeast fishermen up to $3 a pound. The state-managed Chatham fishery runs Sept. 1 through Nov. 15. In 2002, 109 permit holders had a quota of about 2 million pounds.

The state Department of Fish and Game opposes the proposal, in part because its management approach is starting to work, Southeast groundfish project leader Tory O'Connell said. The department has good information about Chatham sablefish stocks during the fall fishery, but would have to manage conservatively if the season was extended because it wouldn't have the same level of data, she said.

"If we don't know what the population is, we have to set a conservative quota," she said.

O'Connell said the quota may go down with a longer season, but isn't sure by how much.

Beason said extending the fishery would give fishermen more time on the grounds and allow them to avoid a derby-type start and bad weather. But he also expressed concerns about cutting the quota.

"There's no doubt about it, we're between a rock and a hard place," he said.

Advisory board member Linnea Osborne supported the proposal, but suggested the department talk with fishermen before cutting the quota substantially.

"The federal fisheries moved to that type of (longer) season and it has helped the market," she said. "We're looking at black cod farms. ... I think it's a good way to move forward."

The advisory board considered a slate of herring proposals Tuesday, including a request to establish a herring pound fishery in Berners Bay or elsewhere in the Juneau area. In places such as Hoonah Sound and Craig, fishermen use enclosures called pounds to harvest herring roe on kelp.

According to Nik Nebl and Mike Svenson, who offered separate proposals for Juneau-area roe-on-kelp harvests, the change would have a smaller impact on herring stocks than a sac roe seine fishery and provide economic opportunities for fishermen. Fish and Game is neutral on the proposals because they involve an allocation question among different types of fishermen, said regional marine fisheries program supervisor Kyle Hebert.

The Berners Bay herring spawn is at low levels, and the last commercial harvest was in the early 1980s, Hebert said. In the past, the spawn had covered 10 to 15 miles, but recent aerial surveys consistently have shown it at 2 to 3 miles, he said. Last year, the spawn covered 4 miles. Because of stock concerns, the advisory board voted unanimously to oppose the two proposals.

The Board of Fisheries also will consider several proposals in January that would provide more access to bait herring in Southeast Alaska. Sport and commercial fishermen have encountered herring bait shortages the past two summers in Southeast Alaska.

The deadline to submit written comments for the Sitka meeting is Jan. 6. The local advisory committee is scheduled to meet Dec. 17 in Juneau to consider shrimp proposals and on Jan. 2 to review Dungeness crab and other shellfish issues.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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