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Mat-Su Fish Commission asks Board to change gears

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA BOARD OF FISHERIES—Members of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish & Wildlife Commission asked the State’s highest board of fishery regulators today (Feb. 7) to switch gears in management to allow more fish to pass up north to Mat-Su’s rivers in crisis.

Seven of the State’s 11 Stocks of Concern for salmon are in the Mat-Su. A Stock of Concern is when a fish stock is having trouble sustaining itself.

Mac Minard, a biologist for 27 years with the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, and now a fisheries consultant to the Mat-Su Fish Commission, made a plea to the Board.

Minard testified before what’s called the Committee of the Whole Group 6. Group 6 addressed the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Management Plan. The purpose of this management plan is to ensure adequate escapement of salmon into the Northern District drainage and to provide management guidelines to the Department. The Department shall manage the commercial drift gillnet fishery to minimize the harvest of Northern District and Kenai River coho salmon in order to provide sport and guided sport fishermen a reasonable opportunity to harvest these salmon stocks over the entire run, as measured by the frequency of in-river restrictions.

Howard Delo, a Mat-Su Fish Commission Member, and a retired fisheries biologist of 21 years with ADF&G, told the Board of the stark changes on the Susitna sockeye escapement.

Commercial fishermen outnumbered sports fishermen when testifying before the Board. Some commercial testimony argued that the framework of terminal fisheries management can’t be done in Upper Cook Inlet due to tide, rocks, and processor capacity. Minard said it can be done.

“The drift fleet can harvest a million sockeye in the terminal harvest area, and that doesn’t work? The fleet has made more money in the last three years while fishing in the terminal area, Minard said, after the testimony.

Commercial interests also said parts of the Susitna drainage had an overescapement or overabundance of salmon returning. Minard said “they can’t have it both ways. They provided a confusing mix of opinion about the status of Susitna sockeye. On the one hand they point to habitat degradation and productivity, which we refute. But on the otherhand they point to extraordinary levels of escapement, so which is it? We say, it’s one simple truth. Not enough coho and sockeye are returning to Mat-Su rivers to ensure sustainability,” Minard said.

The Board of Fisheries meeting continues until Feb. 13. The Board is expected to deliberate on Central Drift management either today or tomorrow. After this meeting, proposals for Upper Cook Inlet Finfish will not be considered for three years.

For more information call Mat-Su Public Affairs Director Patty Sullivan at 907.355-0103 or Fisheries Consultant Mac Minard at 406.439-2059.

http://matsugov.us

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