All three tribal herring proposals (156, 157, and 158) were aimed at increasing the selectivity of the commercial herring harvest to protect older fish, who are thought to “lead” younger fish to their customary spawning grounds near Sitka. After passing 158, the Sitka Advisory Committee declined to immediately reconsider its previous rejection of 156 and 157. But members didn’t rule out returning to them, once the committee had worked its way through all the other proposals they’re asked to review before the Board of Fish’s December 22 deadline. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

The Sitka Fish & Game Advisory Committee has voted to support a third herring management proposal submitted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska — but only by the slimmest of margins. An effort to reconsider two earlier tribal proposals, however, was voted down.

The committee met on November 10 and, after almost two-and-a-half hours of discussion and testimony, voted 7-6 to support proposal 158, which would adjust the harvest threshold for herring in Sitka, to prevent the overharvest of older herring.

One committee member abstained. (Read the full text of Proposal 158 here.)

The support for proposal 158 led one member to ask whether the committee was premature in voting down two similar proposals from the Tribe — proposals 156 and 157 — which also would require the commercial herring fishery in Sitka Sound to be more selective in avoiding older fish, which are regarded as very important to the subsistence harvest of spawn-on-branches.

Eric Jordan was in the majority opposing 156 and 157. He motioned for reconsideration.

“I feel that this is such an important decision for subsistence, and herring conservation, and the industry, that we need the benefit — if we’re going to advise the Board of Fisheries — on the staff analysis that they’re going to have in front of them then, so they will know, this community, this advisory committee in this community has all the information they are going to have in front of them, before we made our recommendation. And we didn’t have that when we voted on (proposals) 156 and 157.”

The Sitka Advisory Committee — known as the Sitka AC — has spent the last three weeks on just the three herring proposals from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. There are several other proposals about herring from other parties that the committee has yet to address, as well as several proposals regarding the management of king salmon. The committee has until December 22 to pass along its recommendations to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

Committee member Tad Fujioka felt reconsidering the two previous proposals would be a disservice to all the proposals still to come. 

“At the rate, very slow rate, that we’re going through these proposals, I’m not in favor of undoing what little progress we’ve made at this point preemptively,” said Fujioka. “If we have time at the end of this process to revisit proposals, then I willing to go back and look at them. But I don’t want to take our recommendation, even if it’s a preliminary recommendation, off the books at this time.” 

Committee member Karen Johnson did not want to go back to the starting line with the Tribe’s earlier proposals.

“I don’t think we should undo what we’ve done and start over,” Johnson said. “If we have time at the end, okay. But let’s not go backwards at this point. We had a lot of good information, a lot of good comments. And I think we should hold on to that.”

The motion to reconsider tribal herring proposals 156 and 157 failed.

Proposal 158, however, passed — but without the support of Eric Jordan, who said he supported the conservation of herring, but he could not see how the fishery could occur without also taking older fish.

Jordan nevertheless gave credit to his fellow committee members, the Tribe, Fish & Game staff, and the public, for putting in the effort to help manage the state’s fisheries.

“I just think this is amazing process,” said Jordan. “And I’m part of the reason I’ve made so many of these motions tonight, which I changed my position on after hearing from committee members is I want the public to know that we are listening. And I think everything that went on here tonight shows that we are and we respect the perspectives. And this committee has led this state in efforts to conserve herring here. And I think that’s part of the reason we still have a healthy herring stock here is because of the efforts of this committee and the department and the Tribe and everybody, things from minimum threshold before we have a fishery, to protected areas that other places don’t have even yet.”

The support — or lack thereof — of the Sitka AC can help guide the Board of Fish in making regulatory decisions, but it doesn’t seal the fate of any individual proposal. The Board of Fish Southeast Finfish meeting begins in Ketchikan on January 4.