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Whale Watching and LeConte Glacier Tours based out of Petersburg Alaska

Chum release in Thomas Bay put on hold


A plan to release millions of chum fry in Thomas Bay, a popular sport fishing area for Petersburg locals, was put on hold in early December until more information on the potential affects of the proposal can be gathered. The request from the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) was tabled by the Northern Regional Planning Team with a unanimous vote of 6-0.

NSRAA General Manager Steve Reifenstuhl says concerns from local sport fisherman and multiple unknown factors motivated the decision of the planning team. Now NSRAA is focusing on applying for a test fishing permit this spring in order to gather the necessary information about existing fisheries in Thomas Bay.

“What we need to do to proceed is do some test fishing in late June and early July, and see what kind of bycatch we get and then provide that information to Fish and Game,” Reifenstuhl says. “So that we can kind of settle this question or understand the concern about feeding kings or juvenile Chinook.”

Reifenstuhl believes the proposed timeframe would avoid a lot of feeder king bycatch, and there is a small window between spring and fall king seasons that could work for commercial fishing of chum. Seine vessels will be deployed in specific areas during specific times of the day over a two or three week period. Collecting use patterns for Thomas Bay is also a goal for NSRAA, along with recording bycatch. Once the information is documented ADFG will determine how to proceed, he says.

“It's not infrequent that it takes time to secure permits. We've been in operation since 1978 and know that everything doesn't happen overnight,” Reifenstuhl says. “If it takes a couple years then that's what it takes.”

Planning team chairman Flip Pryor says he is acutely aware of the importance Thomas Bay holds for sport fisherman. Thomas Bay is a popular destination for local sport fisherman, but its close proximity to town and availability of canneries could also pay dividends for commercial vessels, he says.

“There are some commercial fisherman in Petersburg that would like to have a fishery closer to Petersburg so they would not have to travel so far from home,” he says. “The negative so far has been the competing uses for the traditional fisheries that go over there and sport fish.”

Pryor says drawing lines restricting the general commercial harvest area could potentially mitigate some of the worries for sport fisherman, but the areas of use in Thomas Bay are not certain. Right now, the goal is to collect the necessary data for ADFG to make an educated decision, he says.

“We don't really have a position,” Pryor says. “It's a neutral position until we get more information. It could take one summer, but it'll be wait and see what comes out of it.”

Tim Koeneman and Doug Welde are two hand trollers that enjoy frequenting Thomas Bay, and they are concerned about the potential release of chum fry. One of the major concerns for Koeneman during the initial application was the lack of notice given to the public, which meant lack of public awareness.

“Now the issue has been tabled, there are opportunities for the advisory committee to talk about it and get the public consensus and whether they think it's a good idea or not,” Koeneman says.

For Welde, bycatch and the unknown long-term effects of the chum introduction to the food web is the big issue, and releasing chum fry is additional pressure to already small runs. Also any potential positive economic impacts from having commercial vessels in Petersburg's harbors would be minimal, he says.

“They would be here buying groceries for two weeks, maybe,” Welde says. “This is about protecting local resources. We need to be thinking about our kids and our grandkids.”


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