Alaska’s Board of Fisheries voted Friday to take purse seiners out of a Ketchikan-area herring fishery. That came after an earlier vote against shutting it down altogether.
But when enough fish show up, seiners and gillnetters can make a go at it. They take turns in alternating years when the numbers are good.
But a proposal approved by the board took the seiners out of the mix. It came from Petersburg gillnetter Arnold Enge.
His plan was among 26 considered by the board’s herring and groundfish committee. Kodiak board member Sue Jeffrey said some on the committee saw it as a resource grab.
“But I think it was also recognized that the proposer is simply trying to keep the gillnet sac roe fishery viable. And this is one way that he thought would be fair,” Jeffrey said.
The vote was close, with only four of the board’s members in support.
Fairbanks member Mike Smith was among the three in doubt.
“I think that kind of tends to lead us down a very slippery slope of trying to massage these management plans based upon some fluctuating abundance numbers,” Smith said.
State biologists project this year’s Behm Canal herring biomass to be about 8,000 tons. Commercial fishermen could take about 840 tons, with a tenth going to the bait pound fishery.
A separate proposal before the board could have removed seiners and gillnetters from the area.
The Ketchikan Guided Sportfish Association wanted to almost triple the threshold for the area. A threshold is the smallest projected population needed to open a fishery.
The charter group’s Jeff Wedekind said low thresholds contributed to the demise of some other Southeast herring fisheries.
“There was a 5,000 ton threshold for Lynn Canal herring. I believe the last time they fished those was in 1982 and they haven’t recovered sufficiently to fish there yet,” he said.
Behm Canal’s herring threshold is 6,000 tons. The proposal would have increased it to 15,000 tons.
Juneau board member Bill Brown said that change could have only one effect.
“I believe I understand the intent of the proposer is in fact to shut down the Behm Canal herring fishery,” he said.
Officials say they don’t know why the herring numbers have been low.
Commercial Fisheries Management Biologist Scott Walker says that population may have shifted to a nearby area, as herring sometimes do.
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