The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted 4-3 on Wednesday not to impose emergency restrictions on the Copper River commercial king salmon fishery, rejecting the request from the Fairbanks advisory board after the sport fishery was closed because of a historically low run forecast.
The vote was along what has become consistent commercial vs. sport fishing lines, with board members John Jensen, Sue Jeffrey, Robert Ruffner and Orville Huntington voting against emergency measures, while Reed Morisky, Israel Payton and Alan Cain voted for them.
Jensen and Jeffreys both said repeatedly that, even though run forecasts are the lowest in a generation for Copper River kings, and the sport fishery has already been closed for the year, “”it does not constitute the definition of an emergency.”
The run is forecast at 29,000 kings, barely above the number considered mandatory for adequate spawning.
In the Board meeting, Director of Sport Fisheries Tom Brookover admitted that the division did not have precision enough data on the true strength or weakness of the run, to make a definitive decision on more or less restrictive measures.
Jensen went so far as to say the Board should hope” that the run will come in stronger than forecast and there will be more fish in the future.
The Board action is consistent with recent board actions in Cook Inlet fisheries, providing more opportunity for commercial fishermen. Interestingly, in the Tuesday Alaska Legislature joint session that confirmed Jensen, Jeffrey and Morisky for another three year term, Rep. Les Gara spoke at length about sending a message to Board members that Alaskans believed that the Board was very much favoring commercial fishermen in decisions.
With no emergency additional restrictions, it will be the responsibility of ADF&G to determine what if any additional emergency orders may apply to the iconic fishery. In the meantime, sport and subsistence fishermen will have to look elsewhere or perhaps purchase their Copper River kings from the commercial fishermen.