Fishermen prep for 2016 reg changes

May 25, 2016

No more free week, a loophole closed in Togiak, and a change for d-boats are among the 2016 changes

Credit KDLG News

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery will see some changes this year, from when fishermen have to declare a district and how tenders accept deliveries from d-boats, to when the Wood River Special Harvest Area can be used.

Among the changes made by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the State Board of Fisheries is one that will affect most fishermen early in the season, no matter their district. This year, drifters must register in the district in which they intend to fish right from the get go. Gone is the time to test the waters in different areas before committing to one. Once a fishermen is committed, there’s mandatory wait before they can switch.

That change was made by the state Board of Fisheries in December, and was widely supported by public testimony and the Bristol Bay area advisory committees.

But Dillingham drift fisherman Bronson Brito was one of few who opposed the change this winter, and said in mid-May that it’ll effect how he starts his season.

“Normally I would go over to Egegik, ‘cause their run starts a little bit earlier, fish over there for a little while,” he said. “I always come back to the Nush when it starts. But being able to go over to Egegik gives me the opportunity to give my boat and my crew a rundown. I get to learn a little about my crew. Usually I have at least one new guy and you can give the boat a shake down, get the RSW system up and running, make sure everything’s going smoothly.”

Brito said that getting to test the waters helped him find a problem with his RSW system before the peak last year, preventing a larger loss while he fixed it. Now, Brito said, he’ll try to ensure he’s back in the Nushagak when it opens, but that could mean sitting out from fishing to transfer, and that timing could be tricky.

Drift fisherman Justin Pleier echoed Brito’s concerns, although he wasn’t vocal about that at the winter meetings.

“It’s fun to go out there and get all the bugs worked out,” Pleier said. “Get your equipment working well, just a good shake-down run.”

D-boat signatures subhead

Another change for fishermen in every district is how tender deliveries will work. For the first time, Fish and Game is requiring all salmon tenders to use the electronic fish ticket system. As part of that effort, the system has been re-designed so that when two permit holders fish on one boat, they’ll both have to sign off on every tender delivery.

Fish and Game’s commercial fisheries operations head Forrest Bowers said the paper tickets had space to write both permit numbers, but the department decided the electronic system should have a space for both signatures, too.

“When we were thinking about this, and talking about how we were going to roll it out, we were reviewing the reporting requirements and talking about how this would be enforced with the troopers and it was determined that the signature of the second permit holder needed to be on the fish ticket also because the dual permit operations are allowed an additional unit of gear,” Bowers said.

Bowers said the motivation for the whole project came from a desire to require wide-spread use of the electronic system, not specific concerns about how dual-permit enforcement was going.

“The eLandings program will cut down on errors in data entry, it reduces cost for the department in data entry and data processing and for most of the processors that have been using it, it reduces their costs too in the long run, in terms of staff and personnel,” Bowers said. “It’s for efficiency.”

Bowers said no specific enforcement issues prompted the change, and that accommodations would be made if a fishermen couldn’t get off the boat and onto the tender easily to sign. In that case, the tender could print out a paper to pass off to the boat to be signed, he said.

Drifter Frank Woods said he thought it was for the best.

“I don’t think it’s too much of a hindrance,” he said. “I’ve always been an advocate of strengthening those d-permit laws.”

But not every fisherman was happy to hear the news earlier this month.

Drifter Robert Heyano, who fishes with another permit holder on board, said it could lead to complications for fishermen and processors in figuring out who should get paid for each delivery.

“So now, with both signatures having to be on the fish ticket, I think unless there’s a signed contract by both permit holders stating how those proceeds on that fish ticket are to be divided or who is to take payment on them, the processors could be forced to split them 50-50 because both permit holders cards and signatures are on the fish ticket,” he said.

And while Woods said he was glad to see more regulations for dual-permit boats, Heyano said he didn’t see the need for them, and thought enforcement was adequate before.

“I never heard any problems with the way it was with the d-permits or any issues with d-permits,” Heyano said. “When enforcement boarded us, if we had a D, we’d have to show both permit cards and IDs.”

Togiak, Nushagak changes also planned

Other District-specific changes will also take effect this summer.

The Board of Fisheries approved a change for the Togiak District that makes the district a little less accessible to fishermen who have fished in other districts and a new way to use the Wood River Special Harvest Area.

Now, when fishermen in the Nushagak District are limited to 4 and three-quarters inch mesh for conservation, the Wood River area can be opened concurrently.

That’s meant to reduce effort out in the Nushagak while still controlling escapement up the Wood River. There’s also a ratio of three drift openings to one set-net opening there, which is the allocation for the special harvest area; Wood River fish won’t count toward the regular allocations.

The board also changed the boundary for the Wood River area, so that a larger closed area protects subsistence opportunity around the Hoseth cabin.

The Togiak change means that existing regulations regarding transfer into the district apply to vessels, not just permits. Previously, a permit used in another district couldn’t be used in Togiak before July 27. Now that applies to vessels, too.