Mӓrit Carlson-Van Dort chairs the Alaska Board of Fisheries at the start of the Southeast meeting at the William Egan Center in Anchorage, Thursday, March 10, 2022 (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries opened a nearly two-week meeting Thursday on proposed changes to commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries in Southeast Alaska.

The meeting was postponed for over a year and eventually moved from Ketchikan to the Egan Center in Anchorage over COVID-19 mitigation requirements. Dozens of stakeholders turned out in person for the first day, while staff members and the public are also testifying online from outside of Anchorage.

Board member John Wood of Willow started off the meeting asking the board to automatically reconsider any proposals that had three votes, instead of the four needed to pass, in cases where one or more of the board members were not able to vote.

“What I’m trying to accomplish, madam chairman, is to make a fair playing field,” Wood said. “When people make proposals they’re doing so because they want to see a change in the status quo.”

The seven-person board has one seat still unfilled after the resignation of Indy Walton of Soldotna this winter. It will be down to five voting members if anyone gets sick during the meeting or has a conflict of interest. Wood thought it was too high a bar to require 80 percent of the votes, or four of five, to pass a proposal. John Jensen of Petersburg expects to have a conflict on many of the 157 changes up for consideration.

“My concern is loading up a future board meeting with stuff that should have been decided at a past board meeting because of the structure of the board members,” Jensen said. “Like for this meeting we’re down one board member, one seat hasn’t been filled and I’m going to conflicted out of probably 60 proposals, up to 60 proposals but I’ll still be conflicted out whenever we kick the meeting down. Our next regularly scheduled meeting is the statewide meeting which is a couple days after this one gets over.”

Jensen is the only board member from Southeast and owns commercial fishing permits and a boat rental business. Wood’s proposal for automatic reconsideration was voted down.

The board expects to spend the first three days on some highly contentious  proposals for the region’s  herring fisheries. Most of the focus is on the commercial sac roe herring fishery in Sitka Sound. There are competing proposals to reduce, change or expand that harvest. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska has sued the state over management of the fishery, arguing that commercial seining interferes with the traditional  subsistence harvest of herring eggs. Dozens are signed up to testify on both sides of the issue.

Following herring, the board will move into other contentious issues, including the allocation of king salmon between commercial and sport fishing fleets, and between resident and out-of-state sport anglers. The board’s also scheduled to take up management plans for king salmon stocks that could further reduce fishing time and area. Some of those chinook stocks are forecast to see their lowest returns on record this year.

Other proposed changes would impact crab and shrimp fisheries, the harvest of hatchery salmon, and allowable gear for sport and subsistence fishing. The meeting’s live streamed on the board’s website and is scheduled to run through March 22.