Gordon asked what Fish and Game was doing to restrict the commercial fishermen, since they announced restrictions this week on the sport fishery for the Situk River. It was a great question that I didn’t have the answer to. He was genuinely curious about how a netter can differentiate between kings and sockeye – most kings bounce off the smaller 5 1/8th” sockeye web, but a few are caught anyway. Fish and Game is adding some additional restrictions to help eliminate the king by-catch as best they can. I called today and checked with Gordy, the commercial fisheries biologist at the local Yakutat office. Here is what he said:
As of yesterday, the subsistence fishery in the Situk Ahrnklin Inlet is closed to the taking of king salmon. We are still weeks away from the expected arrival of the first kings in the inlet anyway, but they have cut off subsistence already.
The commercial fishery does not open until the 3rd Sunday in June (June 15th, 2014). When it opens, fishermen can not retain any mature king salmon. They must release any fish caught immediately. If a king is killed in the net, it must be turned over to Fish and Game and it will be distributed to local elders and people of need in the community who apply to be on the list.
The area immediately in front of the Situk River outlet is always closed to commercial netting, however the area in front of that and immediately downstream of the Situk will also be off-limits to nets. This essentially triples the closed area in the Ahnklin Inlet and protects the zone where traditionally 75% of all kings are caught.
Typically the commercial fishery is open for 2 1/2 days each week beginning Sunday 6am and closing Tuesday 6pm. That leaves 4 1/2 days of unrestricted access for the fish to come into the Situk system. If Fish and Game does not see the numbers they believe are needed to reach at least 750 large kings through the weir, the fishing time for sockeye salmon (the primary target species of the nets) will be further reduced.
Some additional thoughts:
Most of you know that I am also a commercial fisherman and I’m told possibly the only commercial fishing fly shop owner in the world… Having a foot firmly planted in both worlds can have the tendency to piss off both sides when I try to take a balanced approach to resource allocation. Oh well. My thoughts…
Sport fishing tourism is an important and growing part of Yakutat’s economy. Healthy runs are vitally important to keeping this industry alive and well. But… sport fishing is still a young user group in Yakutat and far more of the resource is utilized by the older and more broadly practiced subsistence and commercial fisheries. Sport is important, but Yakutat disappears without the commercial fishery that established almost all of her infrastructure (except for the WWII airport).
It can be easy to look at our particular viewpoint as the most valued, but Yakutat must work hard to straddle a diverse group of users and interests. For instance, Trout Unlimited continues to push to include the Situk/Ahrnklin in their Tongass 77 legislation – an effort to create additional protections for 77 watersheds within Tongass National Forest. The effort involves changing the Forest Service land designation to LUD2 (roadless). They mostly fear logging, but without some logging, we don’t live in houses made of wood… And you wouldn’t be accessing 9 Mile Bridge, since there was no access to the Situk before they built a logging road that crosses the river! No logging, no access, no sport fishing industry. 1/2 of the entire Yakutat Forelands is already LUD2. TU wants to lock up the rest. The compromise is already having 1/2 of our public lands protected, but a small user group wants to take it all. That is not balanced.
I type these words every year as a reminder that we all need to work together… That Alaska Airlines jet probably stops flying here if the commercial fish catch stops flying as cargo and also if the sport fishermen’s butts don’t fill the seats. We need both to make it work, so we need to strike a balance. Before anyone complains about those %$#@ nets killing all the fish at the mouth, understand that you wouldn’t be standing on this beautiful river without those commercial fishermen making that daily jet service profitable. Same goes for the net guys upset that the sporties kill fish after they have been counted through the weir and therefore are harming the escapement numbers after they were counted.
It takes both for Yakutat to survive, just as it takes both for me to successfully feed and clothe my family. You need both, I need both and Yakutat needs both.
And if it looks like they are on track to reach 750 large kings, they will open retention for you to keep your trophy fish. And for the guys with the nets to sell them. The food you buy at grocery stores and restaurants come from somewhere. For the sport fisherman, this is just a vacation. To most people in Yakutat, it is their entire livelihood and means earning their power bill, or feeding their children, or heating their house through winter.
A couple short videos of Tanis picking fish out of his commercial fishing net on the Akwe River… Shows one king coming out and lots of sockeye: