Fish study an 'uphill battle'
The Haines Borough would spend up to $15,000 on a Lynn Canal Gillnetters Association study aimed at improving sockeye escapement to Chilkat and Chilkoot lakes, according to an ordinance the assembly advanced last week.
J.R. Churchill of the gillnetters’ group submitted the funding request "to review Alaska Department of Fish and Game data and management policies for the past 30 years" and to compile "a report on the findings and solutions to our ever decreasing stocks of Chilkoot and Chilkat salmon."
"Typically, we’ve done this out of pocket as a gillnet organization," Churchill said. "I don’t think we’ve ever come to the borough for funds before."
Borough money for the study is part of an ordinance with several budget amendments, scheduled for a second public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Churchill on Nov. 15 told the assembly that seiners intercepting sockeye salmon in the Icy Straits region thwarted local fishermen last summer.
"It’s well over 180,000 sockeye that were intercepted in Icy Straits by the seine fleet," he said. "There was an abnormally big humpy year down there, so there was a lot of effort. Now, not all of those sockeyes were going to come back to Lynn Canal, but a good portion of that 180,000 would have, which would have put us in our escapement goals that we were after."
Churchill said Fish and Game officials in Juneau have left gillnetters with the impression "that our runs up here are expendable in exchange for a large humpy return in Icy Straits."
"This year we did not make escapement goals on the Chilkat side; we fell short by almost 6,000 fish," he said. "We just made escapement goals on the Chilkoot, and this is a trend that’s going back now 10 years."
An independent fisheries analyst could serve as "a third-party that Fish and Game respects" to lobby for management changes to mitigate the interception of sockeyes, Churchill said.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel requested for the borough to use raw fish tax revenues from the state to finance a consultant’s Fish and Game analysis and to produce a written report. Borough manager Mark Earnest this month said raw fish tax revenues for fiscal year 2012 were $121,651, which was $24,851 higher than the borough previously budgeted.
The borough also would pay the consultant’s travel expenses for presenting the information to the state Board of Fish and other agencies, Schnabel said.
"I think that the local fishermen do absolutely have a very valid position that they need to have assistance in putting data together for presentation to the fisheries board and other management boards to help get relief on management issues," she said.
Schnabel said she anticipated the project scope would include a month or two of research, data collection and compiling the report. She said discussion with state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, led her to propose that the borough provide $9,000 for the study, but the assembly adjusted that number to a maximum of $15,000 at last week’s meeting.
"Any procurement over $10,000 will require approval by the assembly, so that will be a separate action," manager Earnest said. "By then, we’ll have a complete scope of work and cost breakdown at that time."
Gillnetter Churchill said he called resident Ray Staska to work on the study, but had not yet received a commitment. Churchill said upcoming meetings with state officials are especially urgent.
"There’s going to be a lot of proposals that are going to be put out there for increased fishing in Icy Straits by seiners, and we’re not getting the escapement we need now," he said. "More fishing is going to do nothing but harm us in the long-term."
Gillnetters are facing "an uphill battle," Churchill said.
"When we’re not getting sockeyes up the river for escapement, it goes beyond an allocation issue," he said. "It goes to the survival of both of these streams."