Board of Fisheries
At their recent meeting in Sitka, the Board of Fisheries passed a proposal that myself, Senator Stevens, and Cordova District Fishermen United are very concerned about.
Proposal 165, as noticed, was viewed by user groups as a housekeeping measure to adjust the marker, but what was ultimately voted on after it was amended by RC 331 was a very substantive shift in allocation that will cripple the set net commercial fishery on the Tsiu River.
To view Proposal 165 and RC 331 please click the following links: Proposal 165 RC 331
Basically, the public notice did not align with the intent of the Alaska Administrative Procedures Act as no one would have known that the proposal would affect allocation. The result was that there was a lack of representation at the meeting from the community of Yakutat.
Myself and Senator Stevens wrote a joint letter to the Board urging that they address this at the upcoming Board meeting on March 6th.
Cordova District Fishermen United also wrote a letter to the Board requesting identical action.
Specifically, we requested that the Board of Fisheries take up reconsideration of the proposal as amended or make a board-generated proposal to readdress the situation on the Tsiu River. If reconsideration is no longer possible, we requested that they formulate a board-generated proposal at the meeting that mirrors the original language in Proposal 165, put it out for public notice, and hold a special meeting in April to take up the proposal before the commercial fishery this fall.
This effort to segregate commercial and sports fishermen on the river through the Board process is nothing new. It has been attempted multiple times and has been fully discussed, considered, and defeated or overturned under reconsideration every time. Proposal 301, which failed 3-4 upon reconsideration, as well as ACR 9, which also failed 3-4, at the 2012 October work session were nearly identical to Proposal 165. Another Proposal, 247, which failed 1-6, in March of 2013 was much of the same. Because of this ongoing effort, a group of local entities and individuals approached the Board and set in place a process to form the Tsiu River stakeholders working group.
This group was formed with the expressed purpose of engaging in a collaborative process with all stakeholders on the river to address concerns of user groups. Participants include lodge owners, Yakutat Seafoods, guide businesses, subsistence users, commercial and sports fishermen, Yakutat Coastal Airlines, the City and Borough of Yakutat (CBY), and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Since the formation of the working group, annual meetings have been held in accordance with the agreement with the Board and conflicts have not been evident. All stakeholders were invited to participate, and it has been very successful in resolving any conflicts that have arisen between user groups.
I am very concerned about the precedent set when proposals are amended to the point where the public notice wouldn’t actually provide a reasonable person of notice of what would be voted on. Moreover, in this case, there is seemingly a subversion of an agreement with the Board of Fisheries, as well as a collaborative public process that has been effective in keeping user groups happy with access to their respective fisheries.
Hopefully, the large volume of letters that the Board received on this issue are enough to prompt their reconsideration of Proposal 165.
I intend to take a look at legislation in the future regarding how the Board of Fisheries notices and amends proposals to ensure that the public is kept in the loop about potential changes that could affect them.