The Kenai River subsistence gillnet won’t see the water this season, with the Federal Subsistence Board standing behind the federal in-season manager who has roused the ire of the Ninilchik Traditional Council by rejecting the group’s operational plan.
At a Tuesday meeting in Anchorage, the board upheld Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in-season manager Jeff Anderson’s decision to deny the operational plan that was a requirement for the Ninilchik Traditional Council to put its subsistence gillnet in the water, and kept him as the manager of the fishery despite the council’s request to remove him.
In a tie vote, a request failed to rescind Anderson’s emergency order that closed subsistence chinook harvest in the federal waters of the Kenai River.
Ninilchik Tribal elder and Council President Greg Encelewski spared no venom describing how the council feels about Anderson’s management of the Kenai River gillnet.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous,” said Encelewski. “It’s shameful and we’re disgusted.”
The Ninilchik Traditional Council had submitted two requests on July 17 and July 21 asking the federal board to rescind the orders of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closing chinook subsistence fishing, remove Cook Inlet area subsistence fishing from the federal in-season manager’s authority, and rewrite the language in the original proposal that requires the approval of operational plans by the in-season manager.
The board voted on the first two and requested to review the language revision, a regulatory affair, later.
Anderson had reviewed and approved an operational plan for the Kasilof River sockeye gillnet on July 13, but did not approve the operational plan submitted for the gillnet on the Kenai River.
The board made the controversial vote Jan. 21 to add a subsistence gillnet for the Ninilchik Traditional Council along federal segments of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in pursuit of sockeye salmon.
State and federal biologists recommended against the measure on conservation concerns for the chinook salmon and trout that will inevitably be caught in the non-selective gear type.
Both gillnets required that Anderson approve an operational plan before use.
The Kenai measure narrowly passed with a 5-3 vote; board members from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service opposed the motion on conservation grounds.
Anderson, describing his reluctance to approve the Kenai plan, voiced the same conservation concerns.
Anderson’s approval of the Kasilof net drew questions from board members who wondered why a similar plan couldn’t be approved for the Kenai gillnet. Why not try it, some asked, and reserve the right to cancel it at the slightest trigger.
“Wouldn’t you be willing to run a temporary one, like you did on the Kasilof?” asked National Parks Service board representative Bert Frost. “Is there a tolerable level (of incidental catch)?”
“The difference between tolerable and legal isn’t mine to make,” said Anderson. “Am I negligent in my position as manager to allow the harvest of non-legal species with a high likelihood of mortality?”
Ninilchik Traditional Council Executive Director Ivan Encelewski maintains that USFWS, through Anderson, is defying the federal board’s allowance for a gillnet by denying the operational plan.
Conservation concerns, he said, are beside the point; the federal board made the ruling and its up to Anderson to help implement it, not hamstring it over the same issues as before.
“There’s this thing called rule of law,” said Encelewski to the board by teleconference. “The Federal Subsistence Board made the law. The USFWS is on record vetoing and usurping that authority. They’re saying they’re never going to issue a permit or an operational plan.”
Encelewski firmly denies any conservation necessity for king salmon on the Kenai River.
He cited the relative health of this season’s late run kings, recently opened to bait fishing and dipnet retention in state waters and projected to meet minimum escapement, as proof, as well the low level of non-legal species caught on the Kasilof gillnet up to this point.
The board, however, felt that it has no alternative than defer to the authority of the federal manager.
“I’m not in a position right now to rescind somebody’s authority,” said the board’s rural representative, Hydaburg Mayor Tony Christiansen. “I wish we were in a better position to help Ninilchik get some fish.”
On the subject of Anderson’s authority, the rest of the board agreed. The motion to rescind his authority of Cook Inlet subsistence fisheries was rejected unanimously.
A motion to rescind the federal closure of chinook subsistence fishing failed on a 4-4 vote.
In the end, the board voted 7-1 in favor of a motion to “direct the USFWS to work on an operational plan on the Kenai River.” The action reset the Kenai gillnet to its previous state: possible, but not yet approved.
Contact DJ Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @djsummersmma.