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Alaska Board of Fisheries votes to ‘pair restrictions’

By Heather Hintze 8:02 PM February 5, 2014

The decision links restrictions on sportfishing with setnetting and personal use

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Fisheries made a major decision to conserve king salmon on the Kenai River.

The board voted 6-1 Wednesday to pass a proposal to “pair restrictions.”

This links restrictions on sportfishing in rivers with restrictions to setnetting and personal use fishing.

If the king return is too low, sportfishermen won’t be able to use bait. When that happens, setnetters will be limited to 36 hours of fishing a week. They also have the option of using three shorter nets or two longer ones.

Personal use fishermen will not be allowed to retain their king salmon.

Setnetters aren’t happy about the decision. They said they don’t catch enough kings to warrant restrictions on their fishery like cutting down the number of hours.

“We need to fish on abundance,” said Robert Williams, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. “When the sockeye are on the beach, fish and then get out. It lets all the other sockeye and kings get into the river. But when you have prescribed hours it takes tools out of the tool box in order to allow us to fish and prosecute our fishery.”

Sportfishermen said they’ve faced their share of restrictions over the past decade. They said this is a better way to make sure all user groups are conserving the fish.

“What the goal is with the step-down measures is to allow both fisheries to fish through the month of July without closure,” said Ricky Gease, executive director for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. ”I think these step-down measure go a long way into providing that as an option.”

“The sportfishing industry is down 70 percent, we’re talking millions of dollars,” said Andy Szczesny with the Kenai River Professional Guide’s Association. ”I think we have to share the burden.”

Setnetters don’t want the two fisheries to be linked and said it would affect them financially if their hours are shaved off.

“We don’t have time in the water to make money to fish to really execute a business,” said east side setnetter Chris Every. It’s getting very difficult.”

“We’re not happy,” Williams said. “The goal is raised so more fish have to be provided for the river, and we just don’t have anything left.”

The board took public comments from hundreds of people before making the decision. Chairman Karl Johnstone said it’s impossible to please everyone.

“Nobody likes to make a decision that’s going to hurt somebody,” Johnstone said. ”Unfortunately when you’re protecting the fish and there’s far more people chasing far fewer fish, something’s got to give and it shouldn’t be the fish. It should be the users.”

The board still has more than 200 proposals to go through during the rest of its two-week meeting. Other big topics on the agenda include drift netting regulations and red and pink escapement goals.

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