The “action plan” adopted by the Board of Fish — known formally as RC422 — includes language that the steep conservation measures spelled out for the coming year for the Chilkat, Unuk and King Salmon rivers — where king salmon stocks have fallen precipitously — should also apply to the Taku, Stikine and Situk rivers which are not yet considered “stocks of concern.”
Just the opening paragraph of the action plan — the preamble — touched off a flurry of accusations that the Department of Fish & Game was going too far.
Board member Robert Ruffner initially thought the preamble was a bad idea, but became convinced that the Taku, Stikine and Situk were not headed in the right direction.
The preamble language is a bit of a warning shot across the bow — but at least it’s across the bow of a fleet that will be fishing.
“We could have an action plan here today that said none of you get to go fishing at all — for anything — and we’re still not going to meet escapement goals,” Ruffner said.
The Board also took some heat for including some language in the preamble about the Pacific Salmon Treaty, which many fishermen consider an unrelated issue to the current conservation crisis. The Pacific Salmon Treaty deals with chinook moving across the international boundary, say, a king that was hatched in a river in British Columbia, but is caught in Alaskan waters. It’s a really complicated agreement — but that’s precisely why Deputy Commissioner of Fish & Game Charlie Swanton thought it was important to incorporate it into the action plan.
“34 chinook salmon stocks in Southeast Alaska, a handful that are recognized as part of the treaty, and several that are in stock of concern status,” Swanton said. “We’re going to do the job that we’ve got to do relative to balancing all of those things and see if we can’t meet our escapement objectives and pull ourselves out of this.”
So the action plan is really a manual for the state to implement significant fishing restrictions on the stocks of concern, and to take whatever other steps may be necessary — by emergency order — to pump the brakes on catching kings headed for other rivers.
It’s a huge worry for commercial trollers.
“I think staying in business is still a question mark,” Jeff Farvour said.
A Juneau Empire report also suggested that board members themselves weren’t significantly feeling satistifed with the decisions:
The plan will keep troll, sport and gillnet fishermen on the docks for significant parts of the fishing season. Commercial trollers, who made about half of their money fishing Chinook, had their pocketbooks significantly affected.
It was the best and most equitable solution the board and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could come up with under dire circumstances for Chinook stocks on the Unuk, Chilkat, Taku and King Salmon rivers.
All six of the voting board members voted for the plan.
“Nobody is going to be happy with the end results, I am not happy with it. Everyone is feeling the crunch and the pain,” board member Israel Payton said.
The board heard three days of public testimony on finfish proposals. A majority of that testimony was heard on controversial herring proposals, but salmon came in close second.
Public testimony prompted changes to the action plan and the board held the vote until the last day of the meeting to allow public review of those changes.
It appears to be a really unfortunate situation unfolding on the Alaska pandhandle.