Board shifts salmon from Kodiak to Chignik, Cook Inlet

  • Fishermen pursue sockeye salmon at the mouth of the Buskin River near Kodiak in this 2013 file photo. Kodiak fishermen and community stakeholders are protesting recent Board of Fisheries decisions that attempt to send more salmon to fisheries in Chignik and Cook Inlet. (AP File Photo/Kodiak Daily Mirror)

Commercial fishermen in Kodiak will lose some of their time and area for salmon fishing in two management areas as part of an effort to put more salmon in Chignik and northern Cook Inlet.

The Board of Fisheries passed several proposals at its meeting Jan. 15 that will cut back on available salmon fishing time in the Cape Igvak area and along sections of the Alaska Peninsula. Kodiak fishermen lost both significant time and area, which commenters said would be a major economic hit for commercial salmon fishermen there.

The board passed two proposals changing salmon management plans in the area after multiple days of comment and deliberation last week in Kodiak, including more than a hundred people who came to testify about the proposed restrictions.

The proposals are at the crux of a variety of interests: concern about the long-term viability of the Chignik salmon fishery and the interception of Cook Inlet-bound sockeye by the Kodiak fishing fleet. In particular, the presence of Cook Inlet salmon stocks in Kodiak management area fisheries has caused consternation in the Cook Inlet fleet, in part because of the already-high demand on Cook Inlet fisheries in all sectors.

Proposal 60, which the board modified before passing, reduces the allocation of salmon to Kodiak in the Cape Igvak section in western Kodiak. The original proposal cut it from 15 percent to five percent of the total Chignik Area sockeye salmon catch; the board modified it to set the allocation as close to 7.5 percent as possible.

It also reduces the length of the season by about 20 days and doubles the allocation for Chignik fishermen before the area opens for Kodiak fishermen; previously, Chignik fishermen had to catch 300,000 sockeye before Kodiak fishermen could fish at Cape Igvak. That limit is now set at 600,000.

Board member Marit Carlson-Van Dort, who proposed the modified language for the board, said she heard agreement among stakeholders about concern for Chignik stocks, and in addition to aligning other existing regulations, this proposal could help address that.

“The Chignik early run sockeye salmon are struggling,” she said. “I sat here and heard that from virtually all the stakeholder groups over the last few days. In my mind, that point is indisputable.”

The other, proposal 64, originally sought to change the management plans for Cape Igvak, North Shelikof Strait and the Mainland District. The purpose, according to proposal author Dan Anderson, was to constrain Kodiak harvest of non-Kodiak stocks as much as possible.

The board members changed the proposal with new language, increasing the sockeye salmon catch caps in the Mainland District and Shelikof Strait District to 20,000 sockeye salmon and change the fishing time allowance. It also extends the North Shelikof Strait Management Plan to Alinchak Bay and Katmai, requiring those two areas to be based on local stocks.

Board member Israel Payton backed the proposal, saying it could help move some of the Cook Inlet-bound salmon further north, particularly toward the Susitna River, which has been struggling to meet returns and sustain a fishery.

Board member John Jensen opposed both proposals, raising concerns about the economic impact on Kodiak and noting that Cook Inlet commercial fisheries would have to be addressed if the sockeye passing through Kodiak now will make it all the way north to the Susitna River.

“These fish we do pass will definitely go into another fishery,” he said.”They’ll be going into the Upper Cook Inlet fishery.”

Fishermen and biologists have long suspected that salmon harvested around Kodiak are not all headed for Kodiak streams. However, the extent of it became clear after an Alaska Department of Fish and Game genetic composition study published in 2017 showed the percentages of various stock catches in some Kodiak fisheries from 2014-16; Cook Inlet-bound stocks composed a significant percentage as great as 37 percent in one season.

At the meeting in Kodiak, ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division salmon fisheries scientist Bill Templin told the board that scientists have been studying the origins of salmon in Kodiak for a long time, but data has varied over time.

The most recent genetic data about the stock composition is limited in scope — it only covers a small number of the fishery areas and only over 2014-16 and extrapolating it to other years comes with that caveat — Templin said. The various studies on the topic have varied in scope, area and purpose, he said.

“We recognize that the board is charged with making decisions using the best available information,” he said. “The board routinely must use limited or uncertain data and information from studies that were not designed to answer the question being asked by the concerned public.”

There were a variety of other proposals, some more severe, proposed for the meeting to restrict Kodiak sockeye salmon harvest that the board did not pass. Stakeholders from Kodiak raised concerns about the stability of their fishery, particularly economically, if the changes proposed went through.

One of the main contentions stakeholders from Kodiak raised was that the genetic data should not be widely applied, and nor should the origin of stocks dictate where they are harvested.

“They tell you what everybody knew for about a hundred years, maybe 50 years: that not all the fish we catch are Kodiak fish,” said Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Bill Roberts. “If you (pass all these proposals restricting) the salmon fishery in Kodiak, you will greatly cripple the salmon fleet, and you will cripple the economy of this island.”

Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sarah Phillips told the board that heavy restrictions on the salmon fishery will ricochet through the island’s economy. About 38 percent of the area’s jobs are in fisheries. A heavy blow to fisheries means secondary effects in other jobs, she said.

In recent years, the cuts in groundfish fisheries — including this year’s complete closure of the Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery — have led to fishermen relying more heavily on salmon.

“If the suggested proposals are adopted, a significant portion of our employment will be affected,” she told the board. “The fishery income loss will be compounded and potentially devastate fisheries and non-fisheries businesses.”

The economic estimates for impact on Kodiak were based on old versions of the proposals, before the board modified them, and so may no longer accurately reflect changes in the fisheries. The Kodiak Island Borough estimated the losses from several of the proposals in the Cape Igvak area and the North Shelikof Strait in the millions, Kodiak Island Borough Assembly member Dan Arndt told the board.

The board tabled one more proposal, Proposal 37, which would create paired restrictions for king salmon harvest between Cook Inlet and Kodiak, until the Upper Cook Inlet meeting, partly to get more information about funding for another study related to it. That meeting is set to begin Feb. 7 in Anchorage.

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
01/22/2020 - 9:32am