Minimal changes for hatchery harvest

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association won’t have to make any major changes to its cost recovery harvest operations in Resurrection Bay, at least for now.

Meeting in Homer to consider proposals for Lower Cook Inlet, the Board of Fisheries on Friday took up several proposals related to the Kenai-based aquaculture association’s annual harvest of hatchery sockeye salmon returning through Resurrection Bay to the Trail Lakes hatchery, which usually takes place from mid-May to mid-June. Commercial purse seiner fishermen, contracted to a processor who wins the bid from CIAA, collect enough fish to meet the organization’s cost recovery goal, which helps cover the cost of running the hatcheries, and the rest of the fish go to common property harvest, which is open to other commercial fishermen.

However, since 2011, the organization has not met its cost recovery goals and has not provided much common property harvest from the Trail Lakes sockeye stock for common property harvest. One of the proposals sought to change regulations to require the association to split the return equally between the cost recovery harvest and the common property harvest.

The regulation is not brand new. The Board of Fisheries put a regulation in place in 2005 requiring that the returns to that hatchery be split equally with commercial fishermen, which was in place until 2009 when CIAA asked to be allowed to harvest all of the run for cost recovery so it could cover its operating and project costs. The proposal before the Board of Fisheries on Friday would have reinstated the old management plan.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted by a 6-1 margin to refuse the 50/50 split plan. Several expressed concern that if the proposal went through, the organization would not be able to continue its operations because of the financial loss.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s comments state that the department staff would still manage the commercial fishery to achieve broodstock and escapement goals, but it would also manage for the equal allocation.

“This would likely also affect cost recovery requirements at other CIAA release sites in (Lower Cook Inlet) resulting in a probable reduction in common property harvest in those areas,” the department wrote. “This could also preclude CIAA’s ability to meet cost recovery goals for (Trail Lakes Hatchery) in some years.”

CIAA also runs hatcheries in Tutka Bay Lagoon and Port Graham, both of which produce pink salmon. Though it could do cost recovery on those runs, they are significantly smaller because CIAA is still building its broodstocks there, and the price for pink salmon is significantly less than sockeye, requiring more fish to meet the same cost goal. The organization is also working on developing other sockeye salmon programs, but because sockeye have much longer life cycles than pink salmon, it takes years to get sockeye hatchery programs going.

Glenn Hollowell, the Fish and Game salmon and herring management biologist for Lower Cook Inlet in Homer, told the board that managing for an equitable split would be hard. Runs are variable, so proportioning it by total catch in season would be difficult, and splitting it up with one day on, one day off does not ensure an equitable split, he said.

“It was a question that perplexed the department when the management plan was in effect,” Hollowell said.

Several members of the board said they feel CIAA is worth supporting because it provides other services to the region. Board member Robert Ruffner of Soldotna cited the example of the aquaculture association’s work performing an egg take on the troubled sockeye salmon stock in Shell Lake, a Mat-Su Valley lake in which the sockeye have been nearly wiped out.

“Were it not for the actions of the aquaculture association to grab some of those fish and maintain them, it’s likely that that stock would have been extirpated,” he said. “That is not at all insignificant, and they have the ability to do that because of this cost recovery.”

Board Chairman John Jensen of Petersburg said he sees the value in CIAA’s work and is willing to give the organization another chance to set its finances straight.

“In the back of my mind, I know I’ve been dealing with this ever since I got on the board, and I’ve been frustrated with how this goes over the years, but I think I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I hope I am,” he said. “I think there’s good things that will happen here if we don’t change this … and I have a feeling that this (proposal) could quite possibly make this hatchery go belly-up.”

The board also rejected a proposal that would close the beaches of Resurrection Bay to cost recovery harvest operations, which the Seward Fish and Game Advisory Committee had suggested because of past conflicts with sport fishermen. Hollowell said there had been a large number of calls during the 2015 season about sportfishermen’s conflicts with the seiners, so Fish and Game worked with CIAA to have them only seine near the beaches at night between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The compromise seemed to work, Hollowell said.

“We got no calls,” he said.

The board voted not to support the proposal because Fish and Game can manage the conflicts on the beaches using other tools, such as the night fishing and emergency orders to close the beaches.

However, the board did accept one proposal, which closed the section of the Resurrection River downstream of the Seward Highway and Nash Road to cost recovery harvest. Sportfishermen use the area to fish for sockeye and silvers, and there have been conflicts in that area in the past.

Board member Israel Payton of Wasilla said he feels that section of the river should be reserved for sport fishermen.

“To my knowledge, this is the only area of Resurrection Bay open to freshwater fishing, and it is a fairly small area, so I think that area should be reserved for recreational fishermen and not necessarily have the commercial fishing boats getting their cost recovery harvest up in the freshwater past that line,” he said.

Fish and Game could also choose to open the area to cost recovery harvest using emergency orders during a flood tide, allowing the fishermen to move into the river during one tide cycle. Ruffner said he was comfortable with the proposal as long as Fish and Game could choose to open it.

 

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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