Fight over Kenai River gillnet ramps up after regulation published

  • By DJ SUMMERS
  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015 10:15pm
  • News

The Federal Subsistence Board has nearly 100 public comments and requests for reconsideration of subsistence gillnetting on the Kenai River.

The previous record for a board action is six.

The official public comment period for the Federal Subsistence Board is set to begin, according to the Office of Subsistence Management, or OSM. The regulation has been approved by the federal government and is waiting to be published in the Federal Register. OSM representatives said May 12 that the regulation should be published within the week.

The Federal Subsistence Board oversees subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands and navigable waterways in the state, about 230 million acres and 60 percent of Alaska. It coordinates within the Department of the Interior with the Office of Subsistence Management.

It’s been three months since the board narrowly passed the decision to allow a subsistence sockeye gillnet for the Ninilchik Traditional Council on the Kenai River against state and federal biologists’ recommendations concerning conservation needs for Kenai River king salmon.

By statute, a 60-day window opens to public requests for reconsiderations, or RFRs, only when the regulation is published in Federal Register. The RFR window will be open until mid-July.

The regulation moves into full effect upon publication, meaning the gillnet could potentially be in the water this summer pending the submission of an operational plan from the Ninilchik Traditional Council.

In-season federal refuge manager Jeff Anderson said he has not yet received an operational plan.

Within a month of the January regulation passage, the board had already received about 50 submissions asking reassessment of the decision, four of which met the criteria for an RFR.

Geoff Haskett, Alaska regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service voted against the Kenai gillnet in the January meeting, citing the same biological conservation concerns as representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Haskett said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to file an RFR against the decision.

Fish and Game is considering its options for recourse, which could possibly include an RFR, injunction, or litigation.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, submitted the first and began the RFR deluge in January.

According to Office of Subsistence Management policy specialist Theo Matuskowitz, the board has received more than 60 public comments and 32 legitimate RFRs, with another nine solely from the morning of May 12.

Much of the board’s actions take place in far-flung areas that rouse little to no public attention or commentary. Only the most controversial of decisions that conflict with state management or drastically alter status quo subsistence rights get much attention.

The most RFRs the Federal Subsistence Board has ever received on a single action was in 2007, when the board designated the Southeast Alaska village Saxman and several other Southeast and Southcentral communities as “nonrural,” and therefore unqualified for federal subsistence rights.

In 2012, Fish and Game filed an RFR regarding the board’s closure of Red Sheep Creek to non-federally qualified hunters.

RFRs for each have not yet yielded any result. A board work session that was scheduled to review the Red Sheep Creek decisions was deferred after the session ran long. The Saxman decision has not been re-evaluated; the board is scheduled for a July examination of the rural designation process, after which it may or may not re-evaluate the 2007 redesignations.

Matuskowitz said the board might fold several similarly written RFRs into one package in order to mitigate the workload.

“The more we take the longer the board will have to work to process and go through them all,” Matuskowitz said.

The fact that several RFRs look similar is not a coincidence.

 

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, has filed an RFR with OSM and launched a campaign against the decision, “Tell Feds No.” KRSA’s website has engineered a letter generator for interested parties to easily submit RFRs of their own at www.krsa.com/tellfedsno.

The letter generator incorporates the necessary legal requirements for the RFRs.

The board will accept a request for reconsideration “only if it is based upon information not previously considered by the board; demonstrates that the information used by the board is incorrect; or demonstrates that the board’s interpretation of information, applicable law, or regulation is in error or contrary to existing law,” according to the DOI.

Any interested party can submit an RFR.

RFRs must include the submitter’s name, address, telephone number, fax number, email address, and organization.

The meat of the request must include:

■ the regulation you wish to have changed and its publication date in the Federal Register;

■ a detailed statement of how you are adversely impacted by the regulation;

■ a detailed statement of issues raised by the board’s action with specific reference to incorrect information used by the board, information not previously considered by the board, or how the board action is contrary to existing law;

■ how you would like the regulation changed.

RFRs can be emailed to subsistence@fws.gov, faxed to 907-786-3898, or mailed to Office of Subsistence Management, Attn: Subsistence Policy Coordinator, 1011 East Tudor Road, Mail Stop 121, Anchorage, Alaska 99503-6199.

Once an RFR is received, it will go through a lengthy review process. Each RFR will be sent to the applicable Regional Advisory Council that informs the board and assigned a lead analyst, who will determine if it meets the threshold for a formal RFR.

The threshold analysis will then be sent to the appropriate council, Fish and Game, and the Interagency Staff Committee, and presented to the board for action. If the RFR does not meet the board’s criteria, the request will be returned to the sender with an explanation of why it was declared invalid by the board.

If the board accepts the request, the lead analyst prepares a full analysis, which is again sent to the appropriate council, Fish and Game, and interagency staff for comments. The full report and comments will be returned to the board, which will then make a final decision.

If the request is denied, it is the final administrative action of the board. If it is passed, regulations may be revised and the public notified of the change.

 

DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com.

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