Fish Board takes steps to aid Mat-Su salmon

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Board of Fisheries has responded to pleas from Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials and approved new rules for Cook Inlet commercial fishing that are aimed at protecting salmon runs in borough streams.

The rules were put in place to protect Susitna River sockeye and weak runs of coho in popular angling spots such as the Little Susitna River and Jim Creek, the Anchorage Daily News ( reported.

The changes were approved unanimously over the objections of commercial fishermen, including the Alaska Salmon Alliance, which represents fishermen and processors on the Kenai Peninsula.

“Like many Alaskans, we are discouraged by the needless, unscientific attacks on the more than 5,000 Cook Inlet commercial fishermen and their families that have occurred over the last 10 days,” said director Arni Thomson in an email. “These restrictions threaten an industry that pumps over $100-million in payroll directly into Southcentral Alaska’s economy every year. Alaskans cannot afford more half-baked attacks on our right to harvest our natural resources.”

The rules approved Monday give drift fleet more room to fish for plentiful sockeye salmon returning to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in the first part of July. But it removes a fishery that spans the inlet in late July to aid returns of fish returning to rivers farther north.

During public testimony, Mat-Su fishing guides urged the board to restrict commercial fishing to corridors where the fleet can target sockeye at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and avoid intercepting fish bound for northern waters. The plan adds a new 80- to 100-square-mile corridor from Anchor Point to the Ninilchik River.

The rules also restrict commercial drift-net fishing if sockeye catches diminish after Aug. 1, which could help coho returns.

Drift-net fishermen in testimony said culverts, pike, shore erosion and other habitat problems have diminished Mat-Su salmon returns.

Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver praised the board after the vote and called it historic.

“We will look back on this action to implement conservation measures as a game-changer in restoring the once robust salmon runs in the Valley,” Colver said in an email.

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