Fish board responds to changes in Chigniks

Mar 4, 2016

The once-thriving Chignik fishery has seen better days, and fishermen from the region asked the state Board of Fish for a little help.

Chignik fishing boats are pictured in this August 2015 photo.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Area M wasn’t the only fishery up for discussion at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage last month. Chignik fishermen frustrated with a fishery that’s no longer as productive or profitable as it used to be also went to the board looking for some help.

The Chigniks used to be kind of the cadillac of Southwest Alaska fisheries. Big expensive seiners. Valuable catches. But the fleet’s nets have been lighter of late, and permit prices are about half what they were in 1990. The good old days seem to be gone by the wayside. That’s the message Chignik fishermen like fourth generation participant Tim Murphy shared with the board of fish last week in Anchorage.

“Chignik runs have not been strong of late,” Murphy said. “2014 and 2015 sockeye runs were poor and mediocre. The Chignik seine fleet didn’t fish a single day in June of 2014 and didn’t open at all until July 12, 2014. Since purchasing my Chignik seine permit it has lost 17 percent of its value in three years, according to current listing prices.”

This winter, Chignik fishermen tossed out a couple ideas to make their fishery a little more profitable: one was fishing in a larger portion of the waters around Kujulik, Portage and Ivanof bays. Another was creating a pink salmon management plan.

Fishermen said if they were assured pink and chum catches, and they might have a better shot at getting a processor to stay – which didn’t happen last summer – and that the extra income could provide a needed boost now that the sockeye fishery isn’t as profitable.

The board rejected those ideas.

But it did make a change on the South Peninsula that was requested by the Chignik advisory committee. Fisherman Gary Anderson spoke up in support of  proposal 186, which would limit the fish caught in the Dolgoi Islands.

“I’m not saying to shut it down totally,” Anderson said. “Chignik understands that Dolgoi Island fishery has a historical basis. But it needs some limits, as the killing power of this fishery on Chignik sockeye is increasing well beyond reason.”

Board member Sue Jeffrey said the cap on the catch in the Dolgoi Islands should help ensure that sockeye make it back to Chignik.

“The purpose and intent of this proposal is to allow more Chignik-bound fish to move through the Dolgoi area….and yet still maintain an opportunity for this Area M portion of the South Peninsula.

That proposal passed unanimously.

And Chignik fishermen also scored something of a victory when the board did not approve proposals that they said could have reduced their catches.

The board also agreed to provide more subsistence fishing opportunity in Chignik by increasing the target number of sockeye passing the Chignik weir and doubling the target available for harvest each September.