Fish Board Restricts Commercial Fleet in Cook Inlet

After spending Sunday listening to stakeholders’ committee comments on Northern District proposals, the state’s Board of Fisheries Monday morning got down to deliberations on central Cook Inlet management changes. The Board unanimously approved a proposal to ensure escapement goals for the Northern District.

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 The Board unanimously approved substitute language for a proposal [135] initially sponsored by commercial drifters intending to modify the plan to ensure escapement goals for the Northern District.

 But the language the Board approved was put forward by the Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. Commission member Larry Engle says the board’s approval of the substitute expands harvest opportunities for the drift fishery during the early part of the fishing season, while it expands fishing areas for the drift fleet until July fifteenth. After that date, until the end of the month, the drift fleet harvest will be restricted to allow more fish passage into the Northern District.

“So it was kind of a balancing act, and the whole issue surrounded around conservation. Every board member talked about this, and they couldn’t predict exactly how this was ultimately going to turn out, but things have gotten so bad in terms of fish passage through the Northern District, escapements, the closures and its impacts on tens of thousands of Alaskans, that they knew they had to try something different. And they did. “

 Engle says the changes to Central District drift management is one of the most critical issues at the meeting. He says the drift fleet will be able to catch more fish up front at the start of the season, while later season restrictions on commercial harvesters will allow more fish for Northern Cook Inlet. Mac Minard, a consultant for the Mat Su Fish and Wildlife Commission says sports harvests should benefit.

“It will deliver tens of thousands, if a hundred thousand coho North into the streams and waters of the Northern District. There will be an immediate and measurable effect in those fisheries for local anglers this fall. “ 

The move affects all salmon headed for the Northern District. Engle says Board members put concerns about conservation of the stocks over allegiance to harvest groups.  Board actions can be reconsidered within 24 hours.