More fish will pass north through an enhanced version of the Conservation Corridor, thanks to the Alaska Board of Fisheries adopting a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife key proposal on Tuesday.
The Conservation Corridor of the Central District in Upper Cook Inlet is patterned after Bristol Bay, the most successful fishery management program in the world, restricting drift boats closer to shore while northern bound fish pass through the 125 mile inlet.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) adopted the new proposal with a 6-1 vote and, according to Mat-Su Borough Fish Commissioner Larry Engel, it will strengthen and fortify the Conservation Corridor for all users.
“This isn’t just a benefit to those in the Mat-Su. It’s a benefit to fish sustainability and to get more fish north,” said Engel, who was a State biologist for more than 30 years and was a former chair of The Alaska Board of Fisheries. “There’s a combination of benefits. We’ve had low escapements and many closures. This will help substantially to improve both of those issues.”
Without the additional corridor protections, at certain times, tremendous bycatch, or accidental catch, of coho has occurred in the Inlet and led to sportsfishing closures in the north. In July 2017, on a single day, about 39,000 coho heading north, were intercepted by commercial drift boats; In the regular August 12-hour fishing period, the same week, about 45,000 additional coho were caught. These regulations, new in 2017, couldn’t have done more for proving the Conservation Corridor is working as intended. That year, commercial drifters caught more than twice as many fish than the entire Mat-Su sportsfishing harvest. But that's not what's supposed to be happening, according to regulations. The Central District Drift Gillnet Management Plan ensures the Northern District “ a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon stocks over the entire run…”
The vote on Tuesday undoes that unfairness. Alaska Board of Fisheries Member Israel Payton believes this is true. “If we get more fish north to the Upper Cook Inlet, we can maximize our yield in the future for everyone as these fish spawn and return,”
The need to give more opportunities to harvest fish in the Northern District rivers and streams and what it means to families in the Mat-Su was on the mind of BOF Member John Wood. “Of the public comments submitted on this proposal, I found 240 in support of proposal 133 with only 2 opposed – that’s an overwhelming level of support.”
Seldom does success happen without great partners and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association played a large role. Ben Mohr of KRSA says, “The Kenai River Sportfishing Association has been active in fisheries conservation across the state for nearly 30 years. The habitat work done in the Mat-Su is amazing, and the time had come to bring Valley fish home. Strengthening the Conservation Corridor and passing fish north was a priority for our organization this year. We’ve been very impressed with the team from the Mat-Su, and we’re glad see this proposal pass.”
Attempting to return the Mat-Su to the glory days, with plenty of fish in the rivers, while providing a reasonable opportunity to harvest fish was a common theme in deliberations.
“The historic fishery in the Northern District was once robust.” Says Board of Fisheries Chair, Reid Morisky.
“I concur with Mr. Payton, and if this passes I believe it would optimize the fishery”
The 14-day meeting for the Alaska Board of Fisheries continues for another 8 days.
Feb. 12, 1:30 pm: A motion was filed for reconcideration for Proposal 133 that was ultimately voted down 5-2 before it could even get off the ground. For a Proposal to be reconsidered, there must be "new information" provided that wasn't previously available.
For more information on other BOF decisions, got to thus address:www.matsugov.us/BOF
Stefan Hinman, Public Affairs Director, at 907-982-2810