South Alaska Peninsula Commercial Fishermen Hurting from Low Salmon Runs, ADF&G Cuts
July 16, 2018
Sand Point, AK – July 16, 2018 – South Alaska Peninsula commercial fishermen are worried that any additional restrictions to fishing time could have devastating effects on families and communities.
Tomorrow (July 17th), the Alaska Board of Fisheries will hold a special meeting at 1 p.m. at the Egan Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage to consider six emergency petitions. They include petitions from the Chignik Fish and Game Advisory Committee, the Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA) and the Chignik Regional Aquaculture Association. These petitions seek to severely restrict fisheries in the South Peninsula of Area M and Kodiak, aiming to conserve sockeye salmon destined for Chignik. The Aleutians East Borough (AEB) submitted comments that strongly oppose all three petitions. The AEB is requesting that the board deny these petitions.
In June, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) took the unprecedented step of reducing commercial fishing time to 40 hours (down from 88) for South Alaska Peninsula commercial fishermen in the last two openings of the South Unimak and Shumagin Islands June fisheries. The action was taken out of concern for the early Chignik sockeye run.
In a letter to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin Osterback stated:
“While we understand concern for recent low return of the early Chignik sockeye run, there is no evidence that this circumstance is tied to either the June or Post-June South Peninsula (or any other) fisheries. The fisheries have operated for decades under detailed management plans developed through public process and adopted by the board. Under these plans, with the exception of this year’s early run, Chignik has never failed to achieve its targeted escapement goal since 2008. The 25% reduction in June fishing time as a result of these measures has had significant, negative impacts on fishermen and the communities within the Aleutians East Borough,” Osterback said.
Although ADF&G took action in June as a conservation measure, harvest rate data from WASSIP studies (2006 – 2008) show that very few early run Chignik fish were likely conserved by this action in late June.
“We believe that these emergency actions should carefully weigh possible conservation benefits, as evidenced by available data, against economic and social impacts,” Mayor Osterback said.
The Unga Tribal Council, located in Sand Point, stated in written comments to the Board of Fisheries that it is concerned and dismayed about the emergency petitions submitted by the Chignik Advisory Council and BBNA.
Unga Tribal Council President John Foster said for many fishermen, record low volumes of fish have been caught, and many boats and crew members haven’t made any money. He said many have a deficit account at the processing facilities this fishing season.
“These unfortunate low salmon runs are occurring throughout the Gulf of Alaska this year, and are likely caused by other factors, not fishermen fishing in the waters off the Southern Peninsula,” Foster said in his comments.
Lifelong Sand Point resident and commercial fisher Tiffany Jackson also submitted comments, and requested that the Board deny these emergency petitions.
“Don’t sacrifice our region and our lives for minimal impacts on another region,” she said. “My entire life, our region has been the target of vicious attacks by other regions, saying they need to protect their tribal ways and economies. I’m a tribal citizen. My husband and children are tribal citizens. As Aleut people, we’ve fished these waters for thousands of years. Fishing is as much a part of our life and culture as it is for any other tribal person in the state. Our home is the ocean. Our ability to sustain our livelihoods depends on our ability to harvest salmon, both for income and subsistence.”
The Pauloff Harbor Tribe, located in Sand Point, also expressed its opposition to the petitions submitted to the Board.
“While a complete closure of the South Peninsula fishery will not have a significant impact on the Chignik run, it will most certainly create long lasting damage to the South Peninsula,” the Tribe stated in its letter to the Board. “The fishermen, their families, the businesses and all the communities dependent upon this historic salmon fishery will suffer from a loss of this magnitude. This is not merely an economic issue from the Tribe’s perspective, but a community health and well-being issue.”
Aleutians East Borough fishermen are hopeful the Alaska Board of Fisheries will take a reasonable approach and put off any immediate action until the regularly scheduled Area M/Chignik meeting in February 2019.
“There is no action that would reasonably address the poor early run sockeye to the Chignik River,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin Osterback. “ADF&G has emergency order authority to address any in-season conservation issues, and management plans are already scheduled to be addressed in February 2019 through the normal process.”
The Aleutians East Borough is the municipal government encompassing the southwestern portion of the Alaska Peninsula and a number of the easternmost Aleutian Islands. It extends 300 miles along the eastern side of the Alaska Peninsula and includes the communities of Sand Point, Cold Bay, King Cove, False Pass, Akutan and Nelson Lagoon. The communities are dependent on subsistence and commercial fishing. For more information, visit http://www.aleutianseast.org/.