Harvesters battle over Cook Inlet salmon management plan

NPFMC takes up arguments on Cook Inlet fishery on Dec. 7-8

Commercial and sport harvesters in Cook Inlet are at odds this coming week as federal fisheries managers prepare to make a final decision on a new Cook Inlet salmon management plan, including closure of a large area to commercial fishing.

Final action by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is set for Monday, Dec. 7, and Tuesday, Dec. 8, with the council meeting virtually over the internet due to health precautions necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Several dozen comments received by the council, the majority of them in support of two of four alternatives, are posted at meetings.npfmc.org/Meeting/Details/1745.

Commercial harvesters favor alternative two, allowing for federal management of the commercial fishery in the exclusive economic zone with specific management measures delegated to the state of Alaska. Sport fishing entities, including the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, favor alternative four, for federal management of the commercial fishery in the EEZ with the EEZ closed to commercial fishing.

The EEZ is an exclusive economic zone within which a coastal country has control over fisheries and their exploitation, effectively restricting most fishing operations on the continental shelf of a country to vessels licensed in that country.

Veteran Cook Inlet harvester Hannah Heimbuch of Homer, whose family has fished Cook Inlet commercially for three generations, told the council in her comments that alternative 2 is the only alternative that would lead to a functional commercial fishery in Cook Inlet, with collaborative state and federal management. Closure of the EEZ, as proposed in alternative 4, “would result in not just loss of fishing opportunity for the hundreds of captains and crew who live in Homer,” Heimbuch said. “It completely removes the incentive for vessels to operate out of Homer, as they have been doing for more than a century.”

Should the council approve alternative 4, Homer could expect to see a substantial decline in annual landings and associated revenue to the city, a loss of processor activity on the working waterfront and significant loss of revenue from fuel purchase, moorages and essential marine trades services as more than 100 vessels are driven north, if they can still operate at all, Heimbuch said. The choice of alternative 4 would create a profound inequity between commercial and recreational fishermen sharing this resource, she said, eliminating access for one and maintaining access for another, the allocative consequences and implicants of which have not been analyzed, she said.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, meanwhile, argues that alternative 4 is the best choice.

“KRSA’s preference is for salmon management in Alaska to be developed by the Alaska Board of Fisheries and implemented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game,” wrote Ken Mohr, executive director of KRSA. Mohr argues that KRSA has examined the alternatives primarily “with an eye toward sustainability, and then with support of in-season implementation and an efficient process. Accordingly, after careful consideration of the alternatives, RSA has concluded that alternative 4 best meets these criteria.”

Access to the NPFMC’s complete agenda and schedule for the meeting, plus all reports and public comments, are at npfmc.org.