Federal subsistence board will consider emergency dipnet season

Unified Command’s mass care group on food security says state has no food security issues

Cordova Harbor. (May 12, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

A request from Cordova residents for an emergency special action subsistence dipnet season in the lower Copper River will be taken up on Monday, June 22 by the federal subsistence board, for a fishery not to exceed 60 days.

The request is an alternative to harvesting Copper River salmon through the state subsistence gillnet fishery, in which members of different households often pool resources and fish together in boats, a violation of social distancing guidelines in place because of the pandemic.

Although a special delegation of authority letter has been issued allowing the Cordova District Ranger to implement this fishery, other provisions require that the decision go back to the Federal Subsistence Board for action, according to a statement issued on Tuesday, June 16, by Chugach National Forest officials in Cordova.

The request from Cordova residents was made in April and required a consultation with the Alaska Unified Command’s mass care group on food security, which determined that there are no food security issues in Alaska.

“At this time, as it relates to COVID, we are not aware of any substantial food shortages or substantial disruption to the food supply chain,” said Mark Roberts, operations section chief for the State Emergency Operations Center at JBER (Joint Base Elemendorf Richardson) in Anchorage. “There has been a lot of work to reinforce food pantries for a couple of months.”

But according to Pastor Steve Leppert of Cordova’s Church of the Nazarene, the situation might be a lot less stable without the generosity of many people. Leppert said the Salvation Army is giving out food bags about once a month and that usually most of some 100 bags of food are all taken. This last time there were some left over, due to a lot of big monetary donations, he said. Cordova schools are also providing food for families with children every Tuesday at Mt. Eccles School, he said.

“I don’t know what would happen if we weren’t here,” Leppert said. “I just know that we are helping people.”

Cordova residents have also made a regulatory proposal, requesting a federal subsistence dipnet fishery for the lower Copper River be placed in federal subsistence regulation. The state subsistence gillnet fishery requires boat access and occurs only during commercial openers and on Saturdays. This regulatory proposal would allow for additional opportunity to harvest Copper River salmon for rural residents of the Prince William Sound area.

The review process for this proposal will be through the U.S Department of the Interior’s Federal Subsistence Management Program.

Public comments on the regulatory proposal are being accepted through July 2. They can be emailed to subsistence@fws.gov

That proposal is scheduled for consideration at the Oct. 7-8 fall regulatory meeting of the Federal Subsistence Southcentral Regional Advisory Council. The council’s recommendation will be passed on to the Federal Subsistence Board for a final determination at its meeting in January. Public comment on that regulatory proposal will be accepted at both meetings.