Gary Cline speaks during the Nushagak Advisory Committee meeting on November 9, 2022. Left to right: Fritz Johnson, Gary Cline, Frank Woods, Kenton Moos. (Isabelle Ross/KDLG)
The Alaska Fish Board will hold its statewide Bristol Bay fish meeting in Anchorage later this month to consider 52 proposals to change fishing regulations across the region. Comments on these proposals are due by the end of Monday, November 14.
The proposals address a wide range of issues, including efforts to conserve king salmon runs in Bristol Bay.
The Nushagak River is the last river in Bristol Bay where the state still has king escapement. Their king salmon runs have fallen dramatically in recent years, even as their sockeye runs have reached all-time highs. In five of the last six years, Nushagak kings have failed to meet the minimum sustainability target and are now a cause for concern.
Among the proposals in this cycle, three address the Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Management Plan, which aims to ensure sustainable king salmon operation and has informed the management of the fishery for the past 30 years.
The Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Committee recommends eight goals in Proposition 11, most of which are changes to that plan.
One recommendation is to change the management of large runs of red rock to minimize bycatch of kings during commercial fishing. Another is to adjust the triggers to open the commercial sockeye fishery.
Under current regulations, when the Nushagak king is low, managers wait until the Wood River sockeye escapement exceeds 100,000 fish before opening the commercial fishery.
The committee recommends increasing the Wood River minimum sockeye escapement trigger when the sockeye run is projected to exceed 8 million fish. The proposal also adds triggers for the Nushagak River escape, although it does not specify what those triggers would be.
The Fish Board created the Nushagak-Mulchatna King Salmon Committee in 2018 to improve the king management plan. The committee met in 2019 but was disbanded by the Board of Fish in 2020. With support from the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute, its members continued to meet and work on proposals to amend the plan.
The king salmon committee said Proposal 11 is “part of a broader and more comprehensive solution envisioned by the committee to address issues affecting the management of the Nushagak king salmon fishery.”
He said other components include technical analysis and non-regulatory actions, such as implementing a test fishery in June to inform district managers of king and sockeye abundance and reduce king harvest.
There are two other proposals to change the king salmon management plan. Proposition 12 recommends requiring a smaller mesh size to minimize king harvest and increasing escape triggers to allow more kings to swim upstream. Proposition 13 recommends timing commercial sockeye fishery openers based on high tides to allow pulses of kings to reach the river.
The Nushagak Fish and Game Advisory Committee met on Nov. 9, but took no action on Proposition 11 or 12. Proposition 13 was unanimously opposed. The advisory committee will continue its meeting to discuss the proposals from the Fishing Board at 4.30pm on Monday.
In October, the state Department of Fish and Game recommended that the Board of Fish designate the Nushagak king salmon as a stock of management concern. At a work session later that month, the Fish Board agreed. The department will present an action plan at the Bristol Bay meeting.
Comments can be submitted until Monday, November 14 on the Alaska Board of Fisheries website.