Ninilchik Traditional Council sues for speedy approval of Kenai River gillnet

  • By DJ SUMMERS
  • Thursday, July 14, 2016 9:07pm
  • News

As part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, Ninilchik Traditional Council is asking that the authorities give it a community subsistence sockeye salmon gillnet permit before the sockeye runs peaks.

NTC filed for a preliminary injunction on shortened time on July 13.

The group said it is necessary to have an approved license in the next few weeks, as the sockeye run on the Kenai River will peak soon.

“Prime fishing time for Kenai sockeye salmon is this week and next week, with the run steadily falling off after that time,” reads the motion. “The season will be a total loss if NTC waits to seek relief from this court after the July 28 FSB meeting. By the time there is a ruling, a permit issued, and the net, crew and fishing site set up, there will likely be only a few days left in the season occurring after the chinook have completed their run and on the tail end of the sockeye run.”

The Federal Subsistence Board allowed a subsistence gillnet for sockeye salmon in the Kenai River for NTC in January 2015 despite conservation concerns for king salmon and Dolly Varden trout, but denied the group the permit during the salmon season.

State and federal biologists opposed the idea of the gillnet, and other Tribal groups from the same area have done the same, arguing that a subsistence gillnet for NTC would not be equitable to other groups.

NTC’s plan for a sockeye gillnet on the Kenai River was denied last year by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management, leading to the lawsuit. NTC filed their legal complaint after the Federal Subsistence Board turned down a special request that would have forced the service to issue the permit.

This year, NTC has filed yet another special request for the same purpose to be heard on June 28. The Federal Subsistence Board instead scheduled the request for the July 26-28 board meeting, which NTC said would make the purpose moot.

“NTC cannot wait and pin its hopes on a favorable FSB decision ordering a permit to be issued for the fishery after its meeting concludes on July 28.”

This year, conservation may not be as much of a concern. Managers of the state’s most popular river are expanding opportunities for both recreational and commercial fishermen.

An improving run of king salmon on the Kenai River has prompted fisheries managers to loosen the lynchpin of the area’s commercial sockeye management, which ties king sport fishing to commercial sockeye. Bait is now allowed for king sport fishermen on the river, and commercial openings are expanding for what is an above-average forecast of sockeye salmon.

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

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