Tension at the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting was palpable when Kodiak salmon fishermen saw a large percentage of their sockeye harvest voted away Wednesday by the Alaska Board of Fish.
After five days of contentious public testimony between Kodiak, Chignik and Cook Inlet fishery stakeholders, the board voted on a proposal to change fishery management plans in Kodiak for salmon, groundfish and herring fisheries in the sport and commercial fisheries.
One of the most contentious proposals included changes made to the Cape Igvak fisheries. Cape Igvak is an area in between the three management areas where Chignik-bound fish are harvested.
The final Cape Igvak proposal that passed 4 to 1 cut Kodiak fishermen’s allocation of total Chignik sockeye salmon catch from 15% to 7.5%, and shortened fishing time for Kodiak fishermen by 20 days.
The proposal also doubled the amount of fish to be harvested in the Chignik area before Kodiak fishermen can fish. According to the new regulation, the number of sockeye salmon harvested in the Chignik area must be at least 600,000 before the Cape Igvak Section will open.
“They pretty much gutted all the opportunity to fish at Cape Igvak,” said former Board of fisheries member and Kodiak resident Nick Szabo. “They changed the guaranteed harvest to 600,000, so it has to be an exceptionally strong run for Kodiak to even fish there.”
Board members Märit Carlson-Van Dort, Israel Payton, Reed Morisky and John Wood voted to pass the proposal while John Jensen voted against it.
A subsequent proposal, however, added a week of fishing to the Mainland District Salmon Management plan, and increased the amount of salmon allowed to be harvested before the fishery closure from 15,000 to 20,000 fish.
“It’s a loss for Kodiak. It’s hard to weigh how much because we will get some sockeye in the normal fishery in July under the new mainland plan extension, but there will be a lot of years that there won’t be any fishing at Igvak before July 6,” said longtime fisherman Oliver Holm.
Many board members voted for the proposal because, while Kodiak has a range of successful fisheries, much of Chignik’s economy relies on the success of the salmon harvest, which has been poor over the last several years.
“Your entire economic basis is built on a multitude of different fisheries and most of them have gone away or are so weak now they are not contributing as they once did,” Wood said to Kodiak fishery stakeholders. “Nonetheless Chignik is in an even worse position.”
According to the board, the original 15% of the Chignik sockeye harvest was originally allocated to Kodiak fishermen because Chignik’s sockeye runs were doing well while Kodiak’s runs were not — now the tables have turned.
Payton said he found data from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission that showed how well Kodiak’s salmon fisheries have been doing.
“Since about 2001, the trend is going up, and that’s good. I’m glad Kodiak seems to be doing well,” Payton said, adding that within the last 10 years, Kodiak has had three of its highest purse seine vessel harvests.
While many Kodiak fishermen argued that the Kodiak salmon management plans have been working for the last 40 years and thus no change is needed, Payton, who voted for the proposal, said the management plan needs to change.
“This plan has been stagnant for roughly 40 years while the world around us has changed. I think it’s appropriate to update these plans once in a while,” Payton said.
For Carlson-Van Dort, her concern for subsistence fishermen and their lack of fish following Chignik’s total failure of the 2018 salmon season was one of the reasons she voted for the management change.
“The subsistence users of Chignik voluntarily stood down for two seasons to allow as much fish as possible up that river,” Carlson-Van Dort said. “We heard testimony that because of that, they had empty freezers and received charitable support from a Lower 48 faith-based organization.”
Representatives from Kodiak’s villages also said their fishing economies are struggling, and said that their plight was not addressed.
“We are highly disappointed that the Board of Fish didn’t seem to appreciate that Ouzinkie and other villages on Kodiak are also struggling with our fishing economies,” wrote Loren Skonberg, secretary of the board for the Ouzinkie Native Corp., in an email.
“The magnitude of the harm from the (Board of Fisheries) decisions today will take a year or two to fully understand but Ouzinkie fishermen know that as there is no fishing at Cape Igvak and the mainland as many as 30-40 vessels will be competing with us in our backyard. It doesn’t seem, with the (board’s) focus on Chignik that any real consideration was given to our island communities.”