For the third year in a row, the Area M Seiners Association has decided to voluntarily sit out the first opening of the June sockeye salmon fishery, which began today. The Area M fishery is located around Alaska’s Eastern Aleutian Islands and Western Peninsula on the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. The Association has 35 members from Sand Point, King Cove and False Pass.
“The Area M Seiners Association realizes that chum salmon catches during the June fishery are politically dangerous,” said Association president Glen Gardner, Jr. “For many years, our fishermen have been plagued by accusations that we are affecting commercial and subsistence chum salmon runs in the A-Y-K (Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim). We believe that scientific studies currently underway will demonstrate that the Area M sockeye salmon fishery has very little impact on the chum salmon stock.”
“Until then, and until the public and the Alaska Board of Fisheries has time to review the studies, the chum issue continues to be a political hot potato for our fishermen,” said Sand Point seiner David Osterback.
“We’re trying to be proactive about this controversial issue,” Gardner added.
The Association met earlier this week (June 5th) and last Friday (June 1st) to discuss their options. Gardner said subsistence fishermen have noticed that the chum-to-sockeye ratios are still high. So the group decided to stand down during this opening, which began today at 6 a.m. (Thursday, June 7th) and ends at 10 p.m. on Sunday, June 10th. Giving up fishing time after a long winter is a tough decision, but one the Association believes is necessary.
“During the month of June, we concentrate on fishing sockeye, the money fish,” said Osterback. “We don’t make any money fishing chums. But we don’t want this chum issue to be a threat that’s held over our heads.”
“As long as A-Y-K residents believe our fishermen are catching high numbers of chums, we face great political scrutiny,” Gardner said. “We certainly recognize their concerns. We view our stand down as a positive gesture of solidarity.”
In 2001, the Alaska Board of Fisheries implemented severe restrictions which nearly bankrupted the entire Area M fishing fleet. In 2004, the Board of Fisheries lifted the restrictions to pre-2001 levels after finding no evidence that previous chum salmon fishing restrictions made any improvement in chum runs in the A-Y-K.
“We don’t want to have our gear restricted again,” Osterback said. “We need to be out there fishing when the fish are running. We have a very short opportunity to do that. The sockeye salmon fishery keeps our communities alive. We have a longstanding fishery here, and we deserve the right to fish this historical fishery. But at the same time, we don’t want to be shut down because there are too many chums going by.”
The fishermen hope that by taking voluntary measures like this Area M Seiners Association stand down, they can maximize their sockeye harvest without generating controversy that follows large chum catches.