Tue. Oct. 21 11:52 am
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Monday, Oct. 21, 2013

No changes to Cook Inlet cod fishery

Alaska Journal of Commerce

ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s Board of Fisheries left the Cook Inlet Pacific cod fishery unchanged, although other areas of the state will see increased state waters harvest in the future.

The board unanimously voted against motions that would have increased the fishery limits in Cook Inlet and allowed longline gear after significant public testimony at its statewide Pacific cod meeting this weekend.

The South Alaska Peninsula will see an increased limit, however, and the board created a new state waters Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea.

The state manages fisheries from Alaska’s coast to three miles from shore, as well as in rivers and lakes, while the federal government is responsible for management from 3 to 200 miles offshore. The state manages both a guideline harvest level fishery, which the catch increase addresses, and a parallel fishery, which operates in state waters but generally follows the federal regulations.

The board is responsible for making certain fisheries management policy decisions for the state, including setting seasons, bag limits, methods and means for fisheries, and making allocation decisions. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for day-to-day fisheries management, based on the direction provided by the board.

Fish and Game’s Jan Rumble said the Cook Inlet fishery has hit record catch and participation levels in recent years, but has not yet reached the guideline harvest in any year, with about 4.4 million pounds taken in 2011, and 4.2 million in 2012.

The proposal considered for Cook Inlet could have increased the state waters Pacific cod fishery there by taking a larger percentage of the acceptable biological catch, or ABC, for the state. That would have reduced the available catch in the federal waters fishery.

The board also discussed allowing longline gear in the Cook Inlet Pacific cod fishery, which currently allows only pot and jig gear. Had it passed, that could have allowed cod retention by certain members of the sablefish longline fleet for part of the season.

Board chair Karl Johnstone said he thought doing so would create management challenges, and that the benefits didn’t make up for the issues surrounding the change.

Testimony from area residents who prosecute the fishery had been mixed, although a group from K-Bay Fisheries Association supported the change.

Both Cook Inlet proposals failed in 0-7 votes.

However, fishermen from throughout the state will see changes in the Bering Sea, South Alaska Peninsula and Chignik next year.

The board created a new Bering Sea Pacific cod fishery in Area O in a 5-1 vote, with board member Fritz Johnson abstaining because his employer had taken a position on the issue. Board member John Jensen was the no vote.

The new fishery will be open to vessels less than 58 feet in length, using pot gear only, and will take 3 percent of the ABC in the Bering Sea.

The fishery essentially shifts some management responsibility from the federal government to the state in the Bering Sea, and will result in less catch for federal waters vessels, particularly those using gear other than pots, or those that are longer than 58 feet.

The state will also work with federal managers to implement closed areas that match federal closures. Pacific cod fishing in part of the Aleutian Islands has been significantly limited in recent years due to concerns over the declining Steller sea lion population in that region.

The board heard mixed testimony on the new fishery. Some Bering Sea participants asked for the board to leave the fishery alone and not change it, while other fishermen, particularly those participating in other state waters areas, said they’d appreciate having additional opportunity.

Johnstone referenced the comments by those wanting entry level participation when the board discussed the Bering Sea fishery.

The South Alaska Peninsula area will also see an increase in the state waters guideline harvest level, or GHL, although not by as much as stakeholders requested.

In recent years, most of the South Alaska Peninsula catch has come from the Sand Point and King Cove areas, with Dutch Harbor taking about 10 percent.

Federal managers set an acceptable biological catch, or ABC, each year and then the State of Alaska takes a certain percentage of that figure as the guideline harvest level.

For the South Alaska Peninsula, the GHL will increase from 25 to 30 percent of the western Gulf of Alaska ABC. Proposals had asked for the increase to take as much as 55 percent of the ABC.

Then, the federal fishery uses the remainder of the ABC, after the GHL is deducted, as the total allowable catch, or TAC. The parallel fishery harvest also comes out of the federal TAC.

That means that fishermen will likely see a smaller TAC for the federal western Gulf of Alaska fishery as a result of the change.

For the Chignik area, which is part of the central Gulf of Alaska, the board agreed to change the season dates slightly but did not change the catch limit.

Discussion of other area and gear changes will likely wrap up Tuesday.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.