Alaska’s Board of Fisheries on Tuesday voted to close part of Sitka Sound to commercial herring harvests. But it wasn’t as much as some wanted.
The board faced a number of proposals to lower catch levels, limit commercial fishing areas, or both. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska and some others wanted further protections for subsistence harvests of herring and their roe.
The board voted down eight of the nine plans before it on Tuesday. The one that passed created subsistence-only zones by closing lucrative commercial harvest areas.
Scott Kelley is Southeast regional supervisor for Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division.
“One of the board members submitted substitute regulatory language that provided for roughly half of the original areas. And that is what the board adopted,” Kelley said.
The board unanimously voted down three proposals to change Sitka Sound’s commercial herring fishery management plan. One would have revised the plan, another would have amended management and a third would have repealed regulations establishing the guideline harvest level.
Sitka Tribe of Alaska Fisheries Biologist Charles Russell said the state was too optimistic about the area’s herring population.
“STA believes that if the population of Sitka Sound herring starts to drop off due to overharvest or any natural factors, this proposal will slow the commercial harvest down and give these fish a chance to rebound for all user groups,” Russell said.
Proposals by the tribe and its members targeted protection of subsistence harvests, which they say have dropped. But commercial groups said they were not catching enough fish to damage traditional use.
Julianne Curry is executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association.
“I guess the question I have to ask is ‘Really what problem are we solving?’ They appear to be solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” Curry said.
Fish and Game set this year’s commercial harvest level higher than ever before.
Commercial Fisheries Director Kelley says the department understands that isn’t popular with all members of its policy-setting panel.
“The board did have some concerns about the way we do stock assessment. And they suggested we be a little more inclusive. We do hear what the board says and try to accommodate their wishes as best we can,” Kelley said. “But in essence, our stock assessment will continue to use the age-structure-analysis model and continue to document our herring spawn deposition through our dive surveys as we have for many years.”
Another plan before the board proposed keeping boats out of commercial fishing areas until they open. Another would have required permits for egg-on-branches harvests.