Kodiak’s salmon fleet is reeling from a number of Board of Fisheries decisions limiting Kodiak’s participation in the Cape Igvak salmon fishery. The decisions cap off a contentious allocation fight between Kodiak and Chignik, after several years of disastrously low sockeye returns in Chignik.
After nearly five days of testimony and discussion, the Board of Fisheries’ final decisions left Kodiak seiners without much of a shot at Chignik’s sockeye fishery. It doubled Chignik’s exclusive first run allocation from 300,000 to 600,000 fish. On top of that, once Chignik hits its a catch of 600,000, Kodiak’s share of the harvest was halved from 15 percent to 7.5 percent.
Kodiak Salmon Work Group chair Duncan Fields said that after days of Kodiak fishermen testifying in opposition, the room was in disbelief when the board chose to overturn the 40-year-old management plan.
“We had over 150 people testify. The testimony was excellent. The community was engaged,” he said. “I had a great disappointment that despite all of that effort, and information, it seemed as though the board wasn’t listening.”
Board members argued that with years of low runs, Chignik’s fleet needs to be prioritized. Kodiak might be hurting, but Chignik has it worse, said board member John Wood.
“All the testimony coming together, what you really pointed out to me is you have a seafood problem, not just salmon,” he said. “Your entire economic base was built upon a multitude of different fisheries and most of them have gone away or are so weak now as to really not be contributing what they once did. But nonetheless, Chignik’s in an even worse position.”
According to Wood, Chignik’s sole source of revenue the last few years has been its 1 percent processing and landing taxes.
Fields, from the Kodiak work group, argued that the new allocation measures won’t do anything to solve Chignik’s series of bad runs, which even board members agreed was not caused by Kodiak’s fishing presence.
Instead, he said, the measure will cut 2-3 million dollars from Kodiak’s yearly salmon revenue, which ranges between 20 and 40 million each season. He says Kodiak’s villages and smaller boats will feel the brunt of that impact. Because Kodiak’s large seiners won’t be able to fish at Cape Igvak, they will have to fish in Kodiak, cutting into the shares of those small operations.
“Despite testimony from half a dozen fishermen from Old Harbor, and four or five fishermen from Ouzinkie, it seemed as though those communities were less important to the board members than Chignik. Those communities are struggling. They don’t get raw fish tax like Chignik, they depend entirely on the fishermen in their town. And yet, Chignik and Chignik’s problems seem to be prioritized over the six rural communities on Kodiak Island. That was a hard pill to swallow.”
Emil Christiansen, a lifelong fisherman from the village of Old Harbor delivered emotional testimony to the board, arguing the same point before decisions were made.
“Kodiak never complains but tries to fish and make a living because all the other fisheries are being taken away, and this is another piece of the pie that you guys want to take away from. If you’re gonna do it, please think hard about it. And it’s the future of my children.”
Fields said it’s unlikely they’ll be able to get the decision reversed at a future meeting, but he said it’s possible they will make appeals for modifications to the plan next year based on the fleet’s experience this summer.
Chignik fishermen, meanwhile, applauded the board’s decision. Benjamin Allen, a Chignik city council member has fished in Chignik Bay for two decades.
“I would say the thing I am right now is optimistic,” he said.
He says that up until now, the Cape Igvak plan did have safeguards — for the past two years, the Kodiak fleet didn’t fish in Cape Igvak at all due to Chignik’s low returns. But Allen says these new changes ensure that Chignik will benefit when the sockeye salmon do come back.
“In Chignik none of us blamed Igvak for the problems that exist there, he said. “But now that there’s such a low level of run, we need those fish to be returning. And so without them we’re never going to economically stabilize.”
Allen’s optimism does not extend to the 2020 season; Chignik is looking at yet another low forecast. But if the run does show up, Allen said, Chignik’s fleet will benefit from the additional opportunity.
Additional reporting from KDLG’s Izzy Ross.