The Alaska Board of Fisheries wrapped up their 2020 Upper Cook Inlet regulatory meeting this past Monday evening. They finished about a day-and-a-half early, which is a little unusual for a large meeting like the UCI meeting. However, everyone was ready for the meeting to conclude because of the almost overwhelming amount of information presented at the meeting.
Overall, the meeting was a success for the Northern District unlike any in recent memory. The Borough’s fisheries consultant, Mac Minard, commented to me that he had never seen a board meeting where one user group (us) got 100 percent of the major changes requested in submitted proposals. Mac’s been involved with BOF meetings for literally decades, so that assessment is quite a statement.
Our big proposal was number 133, which requested the board to restrict the drift fleet’s fishing time in the center of Cook Inlet where the bulk of our northern salmon stocks travel to return to their natal systems in the Northern District. The proposal further restricted the areas where the fleet can fish during the first half of August. Prior to the adaption of proposal 133, there were no restrictions to the fleet during early August. These changes are expected to pulse a lot more sockeye and Coho salmon normally bound for the Northern District through the Central District commercial fishery.
The board also passed several king salmon management plans for our area which should result in more clarity for folks to see what expected king returns will look like and fishing methods and means for the beginning of the season, if there is one. Paired restrictions for several Valley river systems were developed between commercial and inriver user groups and passed as well as a new personal use dip net fishery for the lower Susitna River. All five of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission proposals were passed, some modified somewhat and others as written.
One good thing from this meeting was a new and growing working relationship between the MSBFWC and the Northern District Set Net Association. These two groups have been at odds for years, but an outreach effort from the commission resulted in the NDSNA support of proposal 133, which stands to benefit then as well as other inriver user groups in the Northern District.
Board members, Israel Payton and John Wood, were instrumental in driving these changes to the regulations.
We expected major opposition from the drift fleet representatives to proposal 133. They objected during public testimony, but not nearly as strongly as we thought they would. After passage of the proposal and, following board process, they raised a motion to reconsider 133 based on new information. After hearing the so-called new information presented in the reconsideration effort, member Payton sharply pointed out that any board member or the drift fleet representatives had literally months in which to explore the ramifications of the proposal. Member Wood pointed out that, using the criteria for new information presented in the reconsideration motion, virtually every proposal would have to be reviewed. The board vote on new information failed by a large margin.
On almost the last item in miscellaneous business at the end of the meeting, the drifters tried again to derail proposal 133. Using established board process, the drifters filed an emergency petition claiming damage caused by the three-day old change in regulation. The board again voted down that an emergency existed.
In the board discussion about the emergency petition resulting from Prop 133, member Payton, in my opinion, put the drifters in their place. He stated that he had approached them at the beginning of the meeting asking if they wanted some sort of compromise on Prop 133. They blew him off. Payton approached them again after the reconsideration vote failed to see what their concerns were and if some adjustment was needed. They refused to speak with him.
On the record, during the emergency petition discussion, he accused the drifters of trying to circumvent board process to achieve their goals rather than make any effort to work with other user groups to reach compromise. He stated that they were the only user group who refused to meet with other users to discuss proposal impacts and possibly work out a compromise. Member Wood had earlier mentioned that he was happy to see how much interaction had been occurring between user groups to reach compromises.
Our success was a group effort involving everyone who submitted written comments or testified in person from the Valley. Well done everyone!