Drones Don’t Fly At Alaska’s Board Of Fish

Not all drones are alike. This unmanned aircraft — now banned by the Board — is just large enough to carry a camera. (Flickr photo/Don McCullough)
Not all drones are alike. This unmanned aircraft — now banned by the Board — is just large enough to carry a camera. (Flickr photo/Don McCullough)

The Alaska Board of Fisheries closed some waters near Angoon to purse seining in order to improve subsistence harvests, in action over the weekend.

They also shot down the use of unmanned aircraft to aid in salmon fishing.

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The closure was intended to improve access to sockeye salmon in freshwater systems important to the subsistence harvest in Angoon.

During committee work earlier in the week, Angoon residents spoke passionately about the impact of low sockeye availability, and subsistence harvest limits often as low as 15 fish.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game staff initially opposed Proposal 193, because it would limit their flexibility to manage the seine fishery.

However, the stakeholders were able to put together a compromise that permanently closed waters that the department routinely closed by emergency order.

Board member Sue Jeffrey acknowledged the effort.

“You know, I’m in support of this. This is exactly what we appreciate, when the opposing parties come together and find a solution that works for everyone.”

Subsistence sockeye fishing in Angoon came into the spotlight in 2009 when then-state senator Albert Kookesh — an Alaska Native and lifetime Angoon resident — was cited by troopers for overfishing his permit. The charges were later dismissed.

But many other proposals did not fly — literally — in board deliberations on Sunday — namely, Proposal 204, which would have banned the use of spotter planes during seine openings for salmon. Given the number of small aircraft in use in Southeast Alaska, Department of Public Safety representatives thought enforcing a ban would be very difficult. They referred to the proposal as “a solution looking for a problem.”

The Board rejected the proposed ban on spotter planes.

Drones, however, were not so lucky. Proposal 205 would ban the use of unmanned aircraft in salmon fisheries.

Member Reed Morisky and chairman Tom Klubertson framed the board’s anti-drone position.

Moriskiy – I’m for keeping pilots employed, and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting.
Klubertson – Thank you. I tend to look very hard at existing patterns of areas and fisheries, and I do like — whenever possible — to promote economic stability. We’ve had aircraft in this region for a long time. There are folks who stake their livelihoods, and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it’s just an unnecessary move, and as Member Jeffrey said, it’s not something I want over my head.

Strictly speaking, the Board of Fish lacks jurisdiction over aircraft use. But it can — and did — ban the use of drones to aid in in all commercial salmon fishing.