Proposals would limit aquaculture’s cost recovery harvest

Staff kept busy Thursday at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Homer running microphones around the room to keep up with the public wanting to weigh in.

The board moved into its Committee of the Whole process Thursday, a town-hall style consideration process in which the staff and public can provide additional information about the proposals. The board covered all 46 proposals for the Lower Cook Inlet cycle and will move into the deliberation process Friday.

One of the major issues that arose in the morning was conflict over Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association’s cost recovery harvest operations in Resurrection Bay. Three proposals ask the board to change the allocation and harvest areas for cost recovery harvest, which the aquaculture association does most years to help cover the cost of its hatchery operations. Commercial fishermen, hired by a processor that wins a contract from CIAA, harvest some of the returning sockeye salmon between approximately mid-May and mid-June. When there are fish left over once CIAA has harvest enough to cover its cost recovery goal, those fish are opened up for commercial common property harvest.

One of the proposals asked the board to require CIAA to split the return evenly between cost recovery harvest and commercial common property harvest. The proposer, Tom Buchanan, said it would make it more fair for commercial fishermen.

“Right now, you only have just a small group of fishermen taking benefits of it every year,” he said. “All the fishermen in the whole Lower Cook Inlet have a vested interest in it. For cost recovery purposes, if you’re doing cost recovery, it should be opened up to all boats, not just two or three boats.”

However, the requirement would get in the way of the aquaculture association being able to recover some of its costs, said Mark Roth, a CIAA board member and a commercial fisherman that participates in the cost recovery harvest. The return is sometimes small, and if many fishermen participated, the profits might be stretched too thin to make it worth it, he said in testimony to the board.

“If you want to take and divide that up amongst the whole fleet, you wouldn’t even pay for your fuel, or your crew members would be over there for three weeks fishing for $100 apiece,” he said. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

A second proposal asks for part of the lower Resurrection River to be blocked off from cost recovery harvest. A third asks the Board of Fisheries to create a buffer around the beaches of Resurrection Bay reserved from cost recovery harvesters. There has been conflict between sport anglers on the beaches and the commercial fishermen in the past, and the Seward Fish and Game Advisory Committee wants to see the cost recovery commercial fishermen stay further out in the bay, said Diane Watson, who spoke for the committee at the Thursday meeting.

The proposal would severely hamper the seiners’ ability to operate, though, Roth said. To avoid the conflict this year, the cost recovery fishermen worked out a plan with Fish and Game to fish during hours when the recreational fishermen are not out, eliminating the potential for conflict.

“If you close down all the beaches in Resurrection Bay … not just the beach in contention, you will make it so that we cannot do cost recovery in Resurrection Bay,” Roth said. “That will be the end of cost recovery in Resurrection Bay and that will be the end of the red run in Resurrection Bay because Cook Inlet Aquaculture will be forced to abandon that program.”

About 97 percent of the sockeye harvested for the cost recovery in 2016 were hatchery fish, according to otolith data collected by CIAA. Approximately 98 percent of the harvests in both 2015 and 2014 were hatchery fish as well, according to CIAA data.

The organization has other hatchery stocks it could do cost recovery on, but it’s going to take some time to get those stocks built up enough — hatchery operations for sockeye can take years to get established, said CIAA Executive Director Gary Fandrei during the committee discussion.

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

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