Local News

Fish board rejects Tsiu River allocation plan

An aerial view of the Tsiu River. Photo courtesy Alaska Coastal Airlines (www.flyyca.com)

A Yakutat-area lodge-owner has lost a battle over salmon allocations, after it appeared that he had won. It’s just one of the conflicts between user groups that came before Alaska’s Board of Fisheries last week  in Ketchikan.

The Tsiu River is a short, shallow waterway about 125 miles up the Gulf of Alaska coast from Yakutat.

It has a strong coho run. So commercial fishermen have been setting their nets there for decades.

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The silvers also attract sport fishermen, who stay at nearby, backwoods lodges. That’s led to some problems on the 5-mile-long waterway.

“What I hoped to do is to put a little separation between the user groups so there wouldn’t be the conflict all the time,” said Dan Ernhart  of the Tsiu River Coalition, which represents some lodges and their clients.

He brought a proposal before the Board of Fisheries aimed at dividing up the river. The lower half would go to anglers, the upper half to setnetters.

“I wanted to do something that was fair, something that was right for both user groups that would not interfere with the traditional uses of the commercial people, but yet giving a little more opportunity to the sport fishermen,” he said.

“It really is unwarranted to most everybody who is involved,” said Casey Mapes, who chairs the Yakutat committee advising the Board of Fisheries on local matters. His group opposed the plan, or any version of it, saying it just wasn’t needed.

He got agreement from Yakutat’s mayor, municipal government, tribal government and fish processor – even one of the other Tsiu River lodges.

“There’s plenty of fish. The river is healthy. There’s room. Everybody usually gets along. It’s just that you get a few people who have problems and it winds up everybody has to suffer for it,” Mapes said.

The allocation plan went through a board committee. It switched the boundary, putting setnetters in the lower half of the river.

That proposal then went before the full board. It was debated, and finally passed on a close 4-to-3 vote.

But as word spread to Yakutat, new information came in. It showed a higher number of people involved in the commercial fishery, and a greater value for their catch. (Read Yakutat’s Tsiu River Fisheries and Land Management Report.)

That led board member Mike Smith of Fairbanks to bring the proposal back for reconsideration. He had voted for it, but wanted the opportunity to change his mind.

“These are longtime historical multi-generational fishing sites. They are sites that are fished by hand. They don’t use boats. These people are conducting commercial fisheries by hand. They’re working at things physically and have been doing so for generations,” Smith said.

He said new boundaries could hurt setnetters and others involved in the fishery.

Board member Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna had a different view. He said the Yakutat Borough gets far more income from the lodges bring than from commercial fishing.

“I think we’re seeing a culture clash here. We’re seeing traditional, commercial methods clashing with a new economy that’s emerging in that vicinity,” Kluberton said.

Other board members questioned some of the new information, saying it was an exaggeration or a rehash of what was considered before.

Board Chairman Karl Johnstone of Anchorage argued changing votes would set a bad precedent.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me. It looks like the board is going to, by a majority vote, say we’ve got new information and revisit something we’ve flushed out pretty thoroughly. And I don’t think it looks good for the process,” Johnstone said

The final count was 4-to-3 against the proposal. Smith was the one member to change his vote, leaving Tsiu allocations as is.

Two other river proposals were also before the board. One would have banned using powerboats to drive fish into nets. Another would have changed how the state sets commercial openings in the area.

The Tsiu River Coalition’s Ernhart, who authored the measures, withdrew his support. The board considered them anyway, but voted them down.

Find out what else passed and failed.

See photos of hunting and fishing on the Tsiu River.

Check out earlier fish board reports:

Sides in herring debate take case to Board of Fish

Board allows Jensen to vote on herring issues

Fish board OKs some Sitka herring changes

Seiners out of West Behm Canal herring fishery

State says per diem charges were proper

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