In the coming days, members of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) will make important decisions about management of salmon fisheries in federal waters in Cook Inlet. Among the more contentious issues they will deal with is who can best manage Alaska’s fisheries – the federal government or the State of Alaska.
For decades, the State has managed fisheries in all the waters in Cook Inlet – including federal waters. When this State management structure was formalized by the Council in 2012, the Council recognized “the State’s superior ability to respond to in-season data by quickly and continually adjusting run-specific harvest measures.”
Shortly after the State management structure was formalized by the Council, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) challenged that action in court. In 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of UCIDA’s challenge that the federal government cannot allow the State of Alaska to manage fisheries in federal waters without federal oversight.
The Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) believes that management of salmon fisheries in Alaska should be developed by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, and implemented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This has proven to be the most effective approach to fisheries management in Alaska, and is consistent with the Council’s historic approach to management of commercial salmon fishing in federal waters in Cook Inlet. Unfortunately, the UCIDA challenge to that approach and the Courts decision does not allow for that option in the future, unless harvest is only allowed in State waters.
This is not an attack on the commercial fleet; KRSA has no desire to end commercial salmon harvests in Cook Inlet. We are supportive of sustainable, efficient and effective management of Alaska’s salmon for all users. This can best be accomplished by management at the state level, and not by the federal government.
KRSA examined the Alternatives that the Council will soon be considering, primarily with an eye towards sustainability, how plans might be developed, implemented, and managed in-season, and whether there are efficient processes in place to support the plans. After careful consideration of the four alternatives in front of the Council, KRSA concluded that Alternative 4 best meets these criteria. While that Alternative would change one of the locations where commercial harvest could occur, it would not necessarily change total harvest by commercial fisheries.
There is broad agreement amongst most fisheries scientists that the closer to a river mouth salmon harvest occurs, the better that specific stock can be managed – while at the same time reducing impacts on fish bound for other rivers and streams. UCIDA made a similar argument when they successfully advocated earlier this year to reduce the interception of Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon by limiting commercial harvest areas off of Kodiak Island. By taking a similar approach to the federal waters in Cook Inlet, the Council can now accomplish similar beneficial results for all user groups in Upper Cook Inlet – commercial, subsistence, dipnet and sport. It would also provide uniform management of federal waters throughout Western Alaska and help to rebuild salmon runs in the heart of Southcentral Alaska, including the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Again, while Alternative 4 would have an impact on one of the commercial drift fleet’s historic harvest areas, we are confident that commercial fisheries can be successful in State waters where scientists believe and history proves it will be most effectively managed.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council expects to address Cook Inlet salmon on Monday, Dec 7. (schedule) under Agenda Item C-2. If you want to provide verbal testimony when the Council is addressing Cook Inlet salmon, there is a “sign up for oral comment” link under “C2” on the e-Agenda. You can also listen in to the meeting via the livestream on YouTube.
KRSA’s full comments to the Council are available here.