Lynn Canal gillnetters say they want change in management of the local fishery, which they say weighs disproportionately on their gear group for ensuring salmon escapement goals into local rivers.
State Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, met with more than two dozen gillnetters last week. Concerns include that fishing restrictions to ensure sockeye escapement weren’t equally shared with the seine fleet, which intercepted thousands of reds.
Thomas said this week he would push for genetic studies to show how many seine-caught reds were bound for rivers in upper Lynn Canal. "Fish and Game’s escapement goals are being put on the backs of commercial gillnetters. It may be incidental (catch), but we’re still paying the price," he said.
"Some of the prime gillnet area is closed to us right now, and it’s mostly because of escapement," Thomas said.
During the first five weeks of gillnetting there were gear and area closures on gillnetters, but seiners fishing just a half-dozen miles south of gillnet boats had no gear restrictions placed on them, Thomas said.
"We’re not against the seiners. We’re saying Fish and Game is at fault for not following the constitution, which requires sustainability," Thomas said.
Scott Kelley, Fish and Game’s regional supervisor for commercial fisheries, said the department limited seine fisheries at Homeshore to 15 hours, instead of two days, and to within a half-mile of shore.
"It was managed with allocative issues in mind," Kelley said.
Kelley described management in the area this year as a "perfect storm," with "unbelievable" returns of pink salmon mixed in with a relatively low return of wild sockeye to upper Lynn Canal.
"We took the action we needed to meet our conservation objectives and try to balance those needs across gear groups," Kelley said.
At Homeshore, a fishery on northeast Icy Strait east of Glacier Bay, 1.4 million pinks were caught, compared to 15,000 sockeye, 4,400 coho and 20,400 chum, Kelley said.
Sockeye caught there are from several stocks, Kelley said.
In past years with smaller pink runs, seining at Homeshore was minimal, but there were seven openings this year, based on abundant returns.
Kelley said escapement timing for the Chilkoot and Chilkat rivers is fairly close to historical averages.
Kelley said some concerns of fishermen might be better addressed by the state Board of Fisheries, which sometimes drafts specific management plans for specific fisheries. "If the essence of their concern is related to allocation, the Board of Fish is the perfect entity to deal with those concerns."