February 27, 2023
Harvest Time for Area M Commercial Fishermen Reduced but 2023 Season Remains
Anchorage, AK – On Sunday, Feb. 26th, the Alaska Board of Fisheries deliberated and adopted Proposal 136 with substitute language found in RC 190 with a vote of 4-3. The Area M management area will see implementation during the 2023 salmon season in the following ways:
- Reduces the first June opener to 68 hours for seiners and the second opener to 66 hours, which creates a new 76 hour ‘no fishing’ window; the final two periods will be 88 hours;
- Implements a harvest trigger of 300,000 on June 18 that if reached or exceeded by this date will result in a closure of 44 hours in the third period; and a trigger of 450,000 at the end of the third period or June 23, which, if exceeded, would close the seine fleet fishery for the remainder of June;
- All harvest numbers reported from the seine, set gillnet, and drift gillnet gear groups will accrue against the triggers;
- The Sanak Island, a known chum hot spot, will be closed to commercial fisheries for the month of June to lower chum harvest.
After seven days of deliberations, stakeholder meetings, public testimony, and negotiations, the board took action that significantly decreases harvest time for commercial fishermen but does support adaptive, science-based management, which was a priority throughout the public testimony heard from Area M stakeholders – both fishermen and community stakeholders alike.
The Board of Fisheries received 150+ public comments supporting Area M fisheries and sustainable science-based management, including the innovative and adaptive chum avoidance strategy used in June 2022 by the Area M seine fleet. This strategy was a focal point in testimony at the meeting and had 100% voluntary participation from the fleet last year, even though that strategy required the fleet to stand down from fishing when necessary to avoid chum, a significant loss of opportunity for sockeye harvest.
“We are thankful to every person who traveled long distances to the Board of Fish to voice their support for the eastern Aleutian region and the port communities of Area M. While we didn’t come away from this meeting with everything we sought, we maintained sufficient time and area to allow the Area M fishery to survive another season, and continue to feed communities and families across Alaska, and around the world,” said Kiley Thompson, President of the Area M Seiners Association and leader with the Eastern Aleutian Fisheries Coalition. “We’re losing fishing time above and beyond what we had already lost, which will be hard. But we came to this meeting ready to negotiate, and with that, some compromise. We met with stakeholders from the AYK region this week and continue to hold that door open for future dialogue. We are all Alaskans who care deeply about our communities and natural resources.”
“After a long contentious road, the Alaska Board of Fisheries accepted a fluid-type of management similar to what the seiners did last year,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin Osterback. “In 2022, they had 100% participation in a voluntary stand down to let the chums go by. That’s what we were hoping would happen.”
“We’re pleased with the Board’s decision in the South Peninsula June fishery. We believe that decision was informed by the best science available to us,” said Steve Brown, President of the Concerned Area M Fishermen. “At the same time, we acknowledge the lack of subsistence opportunities for summer chum salmon on the Yukon and we are participating in fleet efforts to reduce our harvest of western Alaska bound chum salmon.”
“The Yukon chum showed a significant decline in adult returns in 2020 and 2021,” said Steve Reifenstuhl. Alaska salmon biologist and data expert, with 45 years of experience. “Ocean research and genetic analysis conducted by a team under the aegis of International Year of the Salmon, as well as NOAA Fisheries, show that Coastal Western Alaska (CWAK) chum sampled as juveniles and sub adults were low in fat content, skinny and had near empty stomachs across a broad swath of their range. This work also showed that the unhealthy environment was brought on by extreme ocean heat years in the Bering and the Pacific from 2015 to 2019. These conditions produced poor quality and low quantity zooplankton, the primary food source for chum salmon.”
Reifenstuhl said predators can more easily target weakened fish.
“The combination of these factors undoubtedly resulted in poor survival for several years. However, there is some good news,” he added. “The Yukon chum return was considerably better in 2022, although still far below ideal.”
“I commend the Board of Fisheries for taking science into consideration,” said Lena Hoblet, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of False Pass. “We appreciate that the board really looked at the research and listened to the viewpoints based on science. I think the decision made was the right decision for science-based fishery management.”
The Eastern Aleutians Fisheries Coalition is a diverse group of stakeholders working together to raise awareness about the fisheries and economic impacts of the Area M region, advance sustainable solutions to preserve the health of the communities, and advocate on behalf of the fishing communities and residents tied to fisheries who live there. Learn more at www.easternaleutiancoalition.org
The Aleutians East Borough is the municipal government encompassing the southwestern portion of the Alaska Peninsula and a number of the easternmost Aleutian Islands. It extends 300 miles along the eastern side of the Alaska Peninsula and includes the communities of Sand Point, Cold Bay, King Cove, False Pass, Akutan and Nelson Lagoon. The communities are dependent on commercial and subsistence fishing. For more information, visit http://www.aleutianseast.org/.