Daily Sitka Sentinel

Fish Confab Opens; Sitka a Major Topic

    The Alaska Board of Fisheries heard testimony from nearly 100 people this weekend as the board’s 2012 meeting on proposed changes to state management of finfish in Southeast Alaska and Yakutat continued at Ketchikan’s Ted Ferry Civic Center.
    Sitka herring issues were the most frequently mentioned by individuals and representatives of fish and game advisory committees who testified during the meeting’s public comment period, which began early Saturday morning and concluded late Sunday morning.
    The comments also touched on many other issues addressed in the 145 proposals that the board will decide during its 10-day meeting in Ketchikan.
    The board began its committee process on Sunday afternoon, with all seven board members serving on a “committee of the whole” that’s discussing a total of 50 proposals with Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff and interested public.
    The committee resumed work at 8 a.m. today at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
    Board Chairman Karl Johnstone said the board potentially would begin formal deliberations on the 50 committee-of-the-whole proposals Monday afternoon.
    In a turnaround from an earlier development, Board Member John Jensen will be able to participate on every proposal related to Sitka Sound herring, after all.
    Jensen, a Petersburg-based commercial fisherman, has the broadest experience in Alaska’s commercial fisheries among the current board members.
    On Friday, Johnstone had ruled that Jensen had a conflict of interest regarding most of the Sitka Sound proposals, based on Jensen’s participation in the 2011 Sitka Sound commercial sac roe fishery as an operator of a fish tender owned by another person — and his current plans to participate in the 2012 fishery there in the same capacity.
    A conflict-of-interest ruling means the board member cannot patriciate in the deliberations or vote regarding an affected proposal.
    On Sunday, Johnstone reversed some, but not all, of the rulings he’d made on Friday regarding Jensen. Those proposals were numbers 230, 238, 239 and 240.
    In addition, the board voted 4-2 to reverse Johnstone’s conflict-of-interest rulings for Jensen on the four other proposals — 231, 232, 233 and 234.
    The motions to overturn the chairman’s ruling were made by Board Member Vince Webster, who voted on the prevailing side with Board Members Mike Smith, Tom Kluberton and Sue Jeffrey. Johnstone and Board Member Bill Brown voted against the motions.
    The conflict-of-interest issue centered on Jensen’s income from operating the tender (a tender is a vessel that transports fish from the fishing grounds to the processors).
    On Friday, Jensen had estimated that he earned about $3,500 for his Sitka sac roe tender work in 2011, out of an overall annual income of about $100,000. He anticipated participating in the 2012 fishery in the same role, at about the same income.
    Johnstone had ruled that the income was significant enough to prompt a conflict-of-interest ruling on one of the Sitka-related proposals. Jensen, saying that he could “see the writing on the wall,” agreed that he would not challenge a similar ruling on the other Sitka herring proposals in question.
    Some board members challenged the rulings on Friday, but failed in a 3-3 vote. Webster, Smith and Kluberton voted in support of the motion.
    On Sunday morning, Johnstone announced that a motion to reconsider the conflict of interest rulings might occur later in the day, based on new information.
    After the public comment portion of the meeting, Webster said it had been brought to his attention that Jensen had made a mistake regarding his income from the herring fishery.
    After talking with his bookkeeper, Jensen indicated that his income from the Sitka tendering work was actually $2,600, about 1.7 percent of his household’s gross annual income of  about $154,000.
    Johnstone withdrew his conflict ruling first on Proposal 230, which would add three criteria to the management policy for the Sitka Sound commercial herring sac roe fishery carefully with department staff.
    Johnstone said the proposal was confusing, and its potential for having an adverse effect on Jensen’s income from the herring fishery is not clear.
    After withdrawing his conflict ruling for Jensen on Proposal 230,  Johnstone later did the same on Proposals 238 and 239, both of which seek to establish a subsistence-only harvest zone for herring in part of the Sitka area.
    Board Member Bill Brown objected to having the conflict-of-interest issue return to the board after being decided on the first day.
    According to Brown, board members describe their income sources and declare potential conflicts of interest to the best of their knowledge at the start of board meetings. The conflict determinations are made then, and should remain in effect throughout the meeting.
    “This should not be an open-ended process,” Brown said.
    Webster supported having flexibility to make changes during a meeting, noting that such changes have occurred mid-meeting in the past.
    “So I don’t think we’re making the process look bad, or setting a precedent or anything,” Webster said.
    Board members spent considerable time discussing aspects of Jensen’s 2011 income relative to his overall household income, and how much income he potentially might realize from the Sitka fishery in 2012 and subsequent years.
    Smith, Jeffrey and Kluberton commented that the $2,600 amount appeared to be relatively insignificant in Jensen’s situation.
    Webster made a series of three motions to overturn Johnstone’s ruling regarding Proposals  231, 232, 233 and 234. As noted above, the vote on each motion was 4-2 to overturn the rulings. Brown voted no.
    During the first vote, on Proposal 231, Brown said he was “voting against the process, not Mr. Jensen.”
    Given the range and complexity of Sitka Sound herring proposals on the board’s agenda, Sitka herring seemed to be the focus of much of the pubic comment heard Saturday and Sunday.
    Several people spoke in support of Proposals 238 and 239, which would establish a subsistence-only harvest zone for herring encompassing either 15 or 16 square miles in the Sitka area.
    Both proposals include most of the same area, which would involve the shoreline and island areas parallel to the north Sitka road system, starting near downtown Sitka and continuing north past Halibut Point to just before Starrigavan Bay. The proposed zones include most of Japonski Island, Whiting Harbor, Middle Island, Kasiana Island and other smaller islands.
    Supporters of the proposals said there had been some difficulty in obtaining enough subsistence harvest of herring-roe-on-branches, and voiced concerns about the future of the herring stock.
    Opponents said the proposed subsistence zones would damage the commercial fishery, and suggested factors such as weather and a decline in participation by subsistence harvesters as reasons for a decline in herring-roe-on-branches harvests.
    There was related discussion about the level of Native participation in the Sitka Sound commercial herring sac roe fishery (about 18 percent of permit holders are Native). Several Native participants in aspects of the Sitka Sound commercial sac roe fishery voiced support of the commercial fishery.
    Comments were made for and against a proposal to require permits for the subsistence herring-spawn-on branches harvest. Opponents said the proposal’s requirement to weigh the harvest would be time-consuming and prevent harvesters from meeting the subsistence needs, while supporters said the permit would provide accurate data about the size of harvests.
    The two proposals that would transform the Sitka Sound commercial sac roe herring fishery from a competitive-style harvest to an equal-share fishery received support and opposition, with some processor representatives maintaining a neutral position because they had fishermen in their fleets on both sides of the issue.
    Proposals to change other aspects of the state’s management of the Sitka commercial herring fishery met with strong opposition from members of the public who praised the state’s management of the fishery.
    Among other topics of public comment: Several commercial troll fishermen blasted a proposal submitted by the United Southeast Gillnet Association to close the troll fishery during a portion of July and 10 days in August, while some of the commercial gillnet fishermen who testified voiced opposition to proposals submitted by trollers to increase troll access to hatchery-produced chum salmon.
    Commercial groundfish fishery participants opposed proposals to shift some of the commercial sectors’ allocation of demersal shelf rockfish to the sport sector, and to remove the annual limits on nonresident sport catch of sablefish (black cod).
    Several commercial net salmon fishery participants voiced support for a regional planning team effort that had reached agreements between the commercial purse seine and gillnet fleets. As a result of the process, the sponsors of several proposals that would affect fish stock allocations between the sectors withdrew their support of those proposals.
    Support was voiced for the creation of a commercial pot fishery for spiny dogfish in Southeast Alaska, while speakers were split on a proposal to create annual limits for nonresident harvest of coho, pink, chum and sockeye salmon in Southeast Alaska.
    On Monday morning, the Board of Fisheries will resume its committee-of-the whole process, starting with a Yakutat area proposal that would affect th commercial setnet and sport fisheries in the Tsiu River.
    The committee then will discuss several herring-related proposals, including those involving the potential establishments of an equal-share fishery and a subsistence-only harvest zone in Sitka Sound — and a proposal to increase the threshold for the West Behm Canal commercial herring sac roe fishery from 6,000 tons to 15,000 tons.
    The committee process encourages members of the public to participate if they have new information that the board has not heard or been presented with before that time.

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