The guided sport industry proposed increasing bag limits, to offset the overall smaller size of black cod recently. Commercial interests argued that raising the limit was counterproductive to rebuilding the stock. (ADF&G photo)

A proposal to allow sport anglers to harvest more black cod has failed.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries last week (3-15-22) rejected an effort by the Alaska Charter Association to increase the daily bag and possession limits for black cod – also known as sablefish – to offset the decrease in fish size in recent years.

The Alaska Charter Association’s Richard Yamada explained the rationale behind proposal 225 .

 “I don’t see any large growth in the amount of people that are going to be participating in this fishery,” said Yamada. “So this proposal is just because of the size of fish has been on a decline. And because we are measured by numbers of fish, the amount of net weight that a person can go on a trip has been reduced. So for efficiency, even a resident angler going out and catching some black cod, to give them instead of four giving them six would make that trip more efficient. And (the proposal) returns sport anglers to the weight of fish they traditionally have caught in the previous five or six years.”

The proposal raises the daily bag limit from four to six fish for all anglers, and raises the annual limit from 8 to 12 for non-residents. It only covers the northern inside waters of Southeast Alaska. Sitka Advisory Committee chair Heather Bauscher testified that her group struggled with a sport bag limit increase.

 “We didn’t think to recognize and address that, with the expansion of the sport black cod fishery to outside waters, it’s no longer really appropriate to base the entire region’s limits on the abundance of Chatham alone,” Bauscher explained. “And unlike 15 years ago, Chatham is now just one small portion of where the fishery occurs. And there’s been a lot of growth in this. In Chatham it’s been up by 400%, and the outside catch is now up by 500%. And the use of electric reels is contributing.”

The Sitka AC approved an amended version of the proposal, but the vote was not unanimous.

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association director Linda Behnken also opposed the bag limit increase. She implied that it was a solution for a problem that did not exist.

“I think as was clear from your staff presentations, this fishery is 96% nonresident 95% of those nonresidents do not catch any sablefish,” said Behnken. “And less than 1% anglers overall reach their annual limit. So what I would say is the bag limits you have in place are quite adequate. We have a sablefish stock that is slowly recovering, it’s still 76%. below where it was when you first set these bag limits, in terms of where your annual harvest limit is for the commercial fishery. You set these thinking you are being conservative, but we’re still below that point. So raising bag limits at this point, just puts more pressure on the stock we have.”

Commercially, black cod – or sablefish – are harvested under a quota share system, in which fishermen buy the right to harvest a specific number of pounds each year. Board member Israel Payton, of Wasilla, thought the quota system gave the commercial sector a greater sense of ownership over the stock than was actually the case.

“So it seems to be like when you tie a quota share to a fishery like this, and you assign this quota, you’re you’re almost assigning the fish as an entitlement to that stakeholder/permit,” Payton said. “So by default, we’re doing that, in my opinion. So therefore, if that never changes, how would allocation ever change away from them if we’re kind of assigning a quota to that? And, you know, when is there room for the growth of other stakeholders to come in, in an equal quota share like that?”

Board member John Jensen, of Petersburg, said quota harvests were managed under the same permits as other state fisheries. But he personally didn’t mind giving resident harvesters an advantage in fishing for black cod.

“I have nothing against nonresidents coming up to Alaska and fishing,” said Jensen. “I just want to keep it respective to the different user groups, the ones that have been here longer like the commercial guys and and the residents that live around Alaska, and try to give Alaskan residents a little bit of a leg up compared to nonresidents.”

Proposal 225 failed on a 1 to 5 vote, with only Payton voting in favor.