Encouraged by strong salmon runs last summer, the regional advisory committee of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is proposing the department ease regulations on both commercial and subsistence fishing in Nome and Port Clarence.
The Northern Norton Sound Fish & Game Advisory Committee met in Nome last week to hear reports from area fish and wildlife biologists and discuss management proposals. The committee, made up of representatives from Nome and surrounding villages, advises local fish and game managers. It also proposes changes to state hunting and fishing regulations.
Charlie Lean is chair of the committee. He says, “It was mostly about fish.”
Salmon, that is. According to Lean, current salmon fishing regulations are outdated. They were put in place after the chum crash of the 1980s. But Fish & Game has recently declared the population recovered. Silver, or coho, salmon have also seen dramatic population growth in Nome. It’s the same story with red, or sockeye, salmon in Port Clarence.
Lean says that means it’s time to loosen restrictions. The committee has proposed increasing subsistence catch limits and expanding commercial opportunities. The proposal also asks Fish & Game to make projections and set catch limits before the season opens.
Lean hopes the changes will help subsistence fishers take full advantage of stronger salmon runs:
“It’s a little bit more risky in one respect, but the harvest power of the subsistence fishers hasn’t been able to catch up with the runs in the really good years. So we’re trying to get subsistence fishing stronger in the beginning.”
The state Board of Fisheries will consider the committee’s proposals in January 2019. If approved, they’ll be put in place next summer.
The committee also heard reports from Fish & Game wildlife biologists on moose, caribou, and musk oxen. Aerial surveys from last summer showed growth in the Western Arctic Caribou Herd for the first time in nearly 15 years.
That’s encouraging, but Lean says it won’t lead to immediate changes in hunting restrictions:
“Let’s not jump the gun. One of the concerns is that less than one-year-old caribou and one-year-old caribou don’t have much fat, don’t have body reserves to withstand a tough winter. Although the temperatures are mild, snow has covered a lot of their food. There is a little bit of concern that those younger animals might not fare well here this spring.”
Fish & Game plans to survey the caribou herd again this summer.
Late in the meeting, the committee discussed Rivers of Gold, a future mining project on the Bonanza Channel. In a letter to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the committee expressed concern that the project could negatively impact the habitat of fish and migratory birds.
The committee also reelected two members and reapproved its officers, with no opposition in any election. Kevin Knowlton and Brandon Ahmasuk will serve another 3-year term on the committee, and Knowlton will continue as secretary for 2 more years. Lean and Nate Perkins were reelected chair and vice-chair, respectively.
The advisory committee meets two to three times each year.
Image at top: Salmon drying on a fish rack. Photo: KNOM file.