Regional Subsistence Councils meet.

All Regions unite. HIA pushes for fish.

The 10 Regional Subsistence Advisory Councils, the Federal Subsistence Board, and relevant federal agencies met this March at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. These councils represent our communities in advising Federal and State subsistence policies. All-Region meetings only happen about once a decade, so I was honored to participate on behalf of HIA and the community.

As the sun rose over the mountains and carts of coffee and carefully placed stacks of little white mugs clattered in and out of the room, rural Alaskans from Metlakatla to Utqiagvik gathered in the main hall. With hundreds in attendance, the Federal and Regional chairs gave annual reports on their homelands.

Bycatch of salmon was of prominent concern. Council members testified to the lack of local salmon and food security fears, which in some regions are amplified by caribou shortages. Albert Howard, of Angoon and the Southeast RAC questioned the Federal Board on why the Department of Commerce, who oversees NOAA and ultimately the trawl fleet, was not in attendance.

 While holding up a copy of ANILCA, he challenged the Secretary of Commerce to come to the table and address the concerns of the people. Pointing out that by continuing to allow bycatch, which sometimes includes marine mammals such as seals, the Federal government is violating their own laws. He impressively commanded the attention of the room. The passion in which all council members spoke for their regions was something to be respected and acknowledged.

The second day had been scheduled for technical training on Roberts Rules of Order etc., but by lunch the councils had taken control. Led by Charlie Wright and Eva Dawn Burk of the Eastern Interior, the “ALL-RAC” conducted an impromptu meeting to hash out initial details of two letters, uniting all regions in support of ending bycatch and protecting caribou herds for resident food harvests.

The bycatch letter asked for a strict cap on king salmon and demands the inactive council member holding the Fish & Wildlife seat on the North Pacific Fisheries Marine Council, a position appointed by the Governor, be replaced by the Director of the Office of Subsistence Management to give federal subsistence users a direct path to the NPFMC. There was some frustration that their only recourse was to write more letters, but their efforts should be celebrated and hopefully their work will spur future progress.

The non-reporting of hunting effort in securing Caribou has led to imbalances and commercial exploitation. While many regions work to manage and harvest shared herds, non-resident hunters and flight-based transport/guide services have altered migration patterns and caused stress on caribou already enduring factors from climate change and industrial development. Councils worked to reduce hunting limits on migratory herds and pushed for increased restrictions against non-resident hunts, including minimum altitude restrictions on their airplanes.

The Department of the Interior presented their plan to add three tribally nominated seats to the Federal Subsistence Board. You can find more details regarding that here:

In the final hours of the final day, the Southeast Regional Advisory Council (SERAC) gathered in a small room to hold their individual meeting. Joining the council were staff from the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM), Fish & Wildlife and Forest Service officers, and me!

These meetings usually happen over three days, so the council worked quickly to condense and complete their agenda. Even then we were there much later than scheduled. In fact, the building staff began packing things up before we had adjourned.

The Forest Service and OSM gave reports including generally improved stock assessments on 2023 sockeye returns. The council, through the assistance of Jake Musselwhite, the Northern Regional Fisheries Biologist for the Forest Service, drafted several proposals to present to the Federal Subsistence Board and the Alaska State Board of Fish. These included a potential federally regulated subsistence King salmon fishery separate from ADFG’s sport fishery, with its own quota and bag limits exclusively for Rural Alaskans.

Watching the time click by, and with a long list of agenda items remaining, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to speak. Patty Phillips of Pelican motioned to the chair to grant me three minutes though.

As a result of our survey last month, many community members expressed concerns over securing their subsistence sockeye from Basket Bay. A sockeye system, traditionally used by Angoon, Tenakee, and Hoonah, that currently has a possession limit of only 15 fish and an annual household limit of 30. With high fuel prices and the volatile weather of Northern Chatham the likelihood of fishers making a second trip is low, making the annual limit essentially also 15. Fifteen fish aren’t worth the trip for anyone.

 Fish monitoring in the system was ended in 2017, however Basket Bay still has the advantage of having many years of monitoring conducted on it, providing a decent baseline of data, and the current health of the system is viewed as generally favorable.

I requested the council submit a proposal on Hoonah’s behalf to raise the possession limit from 15 to even just 20 fish to improve the efficiency of the fishery while keeping harvest at a sustainable level.  After some discussion, the SERAC voted to move forward a proposal to the Board of Fish to increase the possession limit to 20 and the annual limit to 40. This proposal is currently being drafted and reviewed and will go before the Board of Fish in their next fisheries review cycle. If it passes this will benefit all three communities that rely on Basket Bay sockeye.

Additionally, I am currently working with Mr. Musselwhite on a separate, but similar proposal to further address Hoonah’s food security needs. The Board of Fish proposal window is open until April 10th, while the Federal proposal window is open until the end of March. If you have anything you’d like to address please feel free to contact me. Anyone from the public may also submit proposals directly to the BoF or the SE Regional Subsistence Advisory Council. Links provided below.

I consider my first RAC meeting to be a success. It was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to attending all future meetings for HIA and Hoonah.

-Jackson Combs

ADF&G Board of Fisheries

Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Councils

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