North Pacific council eases into salmon FMP

A lot of new faces are coming to the table at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and not a lot of them are happy about it.

Fishermen who had never previously been involved with the council now have to show up to have a hand in how their fisheries will be incorporated into a federal fishery management plan. The council, which regulates federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska, on Thursday started in on the topic of the salmon plan for Cook Inlet, part of the Alaska Peninsula and part of Prince William Sound near Cordova. After the council removed the three areas from the plan by amendment in 2012, effectively exempting them from federal oversight and delegating entirely to the state despite them occurring partially in federal waters, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the move was illegal.

Now, the council has to initiate the process of revising the salmon federal management plan to include the net areas, which is likely to take years. The state of Alaska is appealing the decision with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court has not decided whether to take up the case yet. At the Thursday meeting, the council — which didn’t agree with the court’s decision but has to start addressing it anyway — got into the complex questions the plan will have to answer.

One of the first hurdles is that the council doesn’t usually regulate directed salmon fisheries. As anadromous fish, most salmon are harvested within three nautical miles of shore in terminal fisheries, which are in the state’s jurisdiction.

However, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the council is required to manage harvested species throughout their ranges. For salmon, that would include state waters and potentially inriver waters, where essential salmon habitat is found. The council wrangled with the question of whether they could preempt state management, which is provided for in law, at the meeting Thursday.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration legal counsel Lauren Smoker clarified that legal precedent says the council wouldn’t be able to preempt state management in internal waters, which puts inriver management off limits. The state waters near shore, though, may be a different story.

Another part of the conundrum is setting criteria for overfishing. The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires the council to set accountability measures to meet the 10 sustainability criteria that are set out in the law, but the parameters of those are based on species and subject to evaluation by NOAA. For salmon stocks, management is based on the state’s analysis and setting of escapement goals, which are inriver and based on state data.

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the trade group that sued to have the amendment removing the net areas overturned, argued that the state was not meeting Magnuson-Stevens Act sustainability criteria and needed to be held to federal oversight at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council level. In its comments submitted before the meeting, UCIDA said it was not opposed to the state’s escapement goal management, and state day-to-day management of openings and closures may be more effective than federal management, which can be slower.

UCIDA Vice-President Erik Huebsch said the group wants to see the state held accountable to the sustainability criteria and fishermen get the opportunity to harvest surplus salmon in Cook Inlet to prevent overescapement.

“We see problems in Cook Inlet, both with habitat problems and management problems,” he said. “…We would like to harvest these stocks for (maximum sustained yield), but for various reasons, we don’t really get to do that.”

Cook Inlet’s fisheries are a tug-of-war when they come up before the state’s Board of Fisheries. In late February and early March, stakeholdes and the board met for 14 days to hash out regulations for the area’s sport, personal use and commercial fisheries, with hundreds of comments and sometimes hours of discussion on a single topic.

Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, asked the council to consider the effects on inriver sport and personal use fishermen, who sustain a massive sportfishing and tourism industry in Southcentral Alaska. He said the group supported the council deferring as much management to the state as possible and suggested restrictions like limiting the number of openings in the federal waters and a genetic project on sockeye salmon harvested in federal waters to protect depressed Northern Cook Inlet stocks.

“Though this salmon FMP will impact three areas, Cook Inlet definitely has some unique features to it, and it’s the most complex management system for salmon in the state,” he said.

Two groups representing the fishermen in the other two districts affected by the lawsuit — Concerned Area M Fishermen and the Cordova District Fishermen United — openly said they had been fine with state management and didn’t want to be involved. Huebsch said UCIDA didn’t want the other groups to have to be dragged into it, either, but it was part of the process. The Concerned Area M Fishermen are catching up with the process now that they’ve been pulled into it, but don’t want much to change, said Steve Brown, the group’s president.

“Our perspective is that the state is the proper management for the fishery,” he said.

Federal management sometimes comes with requires vessel observers, who watch commercial fishery bycatch. Electronic monitoring systems for bycatch are in the works, but for now, most observers are still people stationed on boats. Huebsch said the Cook Inlet fishery had had observers before and could accommodate them, but the Prince William Sound fishermen would be very inconvenienced, said Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United.

“It’s going to be very disruptive for our fleet,” he said. “…We want out of this FMP. And (however) we do that, if we can get out of this and go to state management, we’d be happy.”

The council didn’t make an attempt to answer any of the questions at the meeting Thursday, but passed a motion solidifying the preliminary purpose and need of the management plan, a number of alternatives and forming a stakeholder workgroup, which will decide its scope and agenda at future meetings.

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

More in News

Copies of the Peninsula Clarion are photographed on Friday, June 21, 2024. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Announcing a new Peninsula Clarion print schedule

Our last Wednesday edition will be delivered June 26.

A bucket of recently caught sockeye salmon rests on the sand while anglers seek to fill it further at the mouth of the Kasilof River on Monday, June 26, 2023, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Dipnetting in Kasilof opens Tuesday

Dipnetting will be allowed at all times until Aug. 7

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Fish and Game restricts bait on Kasilof, Ninilchik Rivers

The use of bait on the rivers will begin Friday and extend to July 15 in Ninilchik, July 31 in Kasilof

A man fishes in the Kenai River on July 16, 2018, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/file)
Slow sockeye fishing on Kenai, Russian Rivers

Northern Kenai Fishing Report for June 20

Alaska Department of Fish and Game logo. (Graphic by Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Bag limits doubled for sockeye salmon in Resurrection Bay

The increase is effective from June 21 to July 31

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Girl Scout Troop 210, which includes Caitlyn Eskelin, Emma Hindman, Kadie Newkirk and Lyberty Stockman, present their “Bucket Trees” to a panel of judges in the 34th Annual Caring for the Kenai Competition at Kenai Central High School on Thursday, April 18.
Caring for the Kenai winners receive EPA award

Winning team of the 34th annual Caring for the Kenai was selected for the President’s Environmental Youth Award

Norm Blakely speaks to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly approves resolution guiding efforts to increase voter turnout

The Voter Turnout Working Group was established to explore options and ideas aimed at increasing voter participation

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Update: Bodies of 2 men retrieved from submerged plane in wake of reported Moose Pass crash

A pair of hikers witnessed and reported the crash around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, trooper say

Most Read