With the new year comes a new book of fishing regulations. Actually, many new books – plural – of fishing regulations, since regulations are set by each individual state. These regulations can have a significant impact on anglers, governing everything from catch limits, zoning and licensing requirements.
For 2022, fishing regulations have been altered mainly to either assist conservation efforts or to clarify language. Here are some of the most significant changes affecting fishermen along the West Coast.
Alaska, which includes four times more coastline than any other state, faces a larger regulatory task than most of the continental United States.
Alaskan fisheries are regulated by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which meets every three years to determine regulatory changes. Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Board is running a year behind, and met in November to discuss proposed changes that would otherwise already have gone into effect.
Up for consideration at the meeting were 82 proposals largely focused on the management of personal use and subsistence fisheries in Copper River, along with changes to the tanner crab fisheries in Prince William Sound.
“It’s a fundamental change to the harvest strategy,” said Forrest Bowers, the Area Management Biologist at Alaska Department of Fish and Game, on the proposed changes to the management of tanner crab fisheries. “About five years ago the department began issuing some experimental permits for the gathering of tanner crabs in the area primarily for the purpose of gathering data. A proposal is attempting to use data gathered during this period to redefine the areas where the fishery would occur and change the biomass thresholds that would need to be met.”
Another proposal would call for a reduction of hatchery production of salmon in the Prince William Sound region.
If these proposals are adopted, they would go into effect within the next few months. Two meetings are scheduled in 2022 to discuss proposals in different regions of the state.
Additionally, the state will be affected by a recently enacted federal regulation that prohibits commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters of Cook Inlet, a region that ranges from three nautical miles to 200 nautical miles off the Alaskan coast.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division issued the order Nov. 2, and it goes into effect in 2022. It will likely have an impact on the Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishery, the only commercial salmon fishery that operates in the area.
Bowers said that this change might “have the potential to have a significant effect” on that fishery. While estimates of the number of salmon caught by the Cook Inlet Fleet in this zone are difficult to quantify, Bowers said that as much as half of the fleet’s catch might come from the closed area.
The rule was put in place, according to NOAA, to “[optimize] conservation and management of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery when considering the costs and benefits of the viable management alternatives.”
As of press time for this edition of Fishermen’s News, Washington state was in the public comment period of its annual rule-making process. Several new regulations are under consideration.
“The changes this year are primarily directed at updating regulations for clarity and conservation goals,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Communications Manager Ben Anderson said.
These include a change to the sea cucumber harvest seasons and changes to cutthroat trout retention rules in several streams throughout areas of Puget Sound and Hood Canal, particularly around the Kitsap Peninsula and south Sound streams.
“The rule currently is that there is a daily limit with a minimum size,” said Anderson. “This would change it to non-retention.”
This is a response to low population sizes of these trout in these regions which makes them susceptible to overharvesting.
Furthermore, the proposed changes would close steelhead fishing on Methow River.
“Right now, the code technically reads that steelheads can be caught and released,” Anderson explained. “We don’t want that to happen because that could affect steelhead (trout). We just want to clarify that steelhead should be closed on the Methow.”
Also included in these proposals are some minor changes to language for the purpose of clarification and simplification.
The public comment period was open through Dec. 4. Once the rules have been adapted based on public feedback they were to be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Committee for approval.
Hawaii is seeing some of the most significant regulation changes, with more stringent regulations being enacted on several fishing practices and more authority granted to government officials to enforce regulations already on the books.
Several of these regulations will get Hawaii, which typically has comparatively relaxed fishing regulations, caught up with the mainland.
For instance, as of summer 2022 Hawaii will require tourists to apply for a recreational fishing permit, which is a requirement in every other state in the nation.
“In the past we’ve tried to get authority for that and have had a lot of pushback,” Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) Fisheries Program Manager David Sakoda said.
The license would only be required for non-resident fishermen. Visitors can purchase them online at $20 for one day, $40 for seven days and $70 for the year.
Hawaii also will be aligning with most of the mainland by allowing its enforcement officers greater leeway in identifying violations. Officers will now be granted the authority to inspect fishermens’ catch if they suspect a violation.
Additionally, a bill banning the take of sharks goes into effect in January.
“It prohibits the intentional or knowing taking, killing or entangling of any shark in state waters,” explained Sakoda, who said that the bill came about as the result of advocacy on behalf of sharks and declining levels of sharks in Hawaiian waters. The bill does allow exceptions however, for the non-commercial take of sharks for subsistence, cultural purposes, or in cases of self-defense.
Hawaii is also introducing an annual permit for lay net fishermen, replacing the current system which requires fishermen to register each lay net only once.
“We really don’t have a good handle on how many lay net fishermen there are,” said Sakoda. The annual permit will allow authorities to keep better track of the number of fishermen there are and to revoke permits of fishermen who violate lay net protocols.
“The idea is to create more of an incentive to follow the law,” he explained.
Also, for commercial fishermen, the state is enacting a new rule to allow captains to get a license for an entire vessel rather than getting a license for each crew member on board, a process which makes life easier for vessels with high-crew turnover.
California is considering a regulation that would adopt a new form to fill out for those declaring fish or wildlife from out of state upon entry. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says that that the form is intended to make the process of declaring fish and wildlife simpler and easier.
“The illegal take of animals and fish is detrimental to the environment, it is prohibited in California and enforced by the Department,” the proposed regulation reads. “The state’s environment may have a slight benefit from prohibiting the importation of illegal take.”
The new regulation may be adopted after a period of public comment.
The state also will adjust its regulations by extending its Drift Gill Net Transition Program, regarding the prohibition of the taking of shark and swordfish for commercial purposes with drift gill nets except under a valid permit.
In 2018, the state established a voluntary Drift Gill Net Transition Program to transition commercial drift gill net fishermen away from the practice, compensating voluntary participants for returning their nets and permits.
The change—which would extend the deadline to participate in the program from “March 31, 2021 to one year following receipt of notification of eligibility from the Department or January 31, 2024, whichever is sooner”—was proposed in order to “to allow adequate time for all voluntary participants to complete the transition process and receive compensation,” according to the regulation’s text.
The rule was approved July 16, 2021.
The Beaver State is making a few changes to its rulebook this year, though they shouldn’t significantly affect the day-to-day lives of fishermen, as they mostly only permanently codify rules already in place.
First, the state will make a decision to permanently close the hatchery hole below Cole Rivers Dam to help protect returning hatchery broodstock to Cole Rivers Hatchery. The state took emergency action to temporarily close the area in 2017, 2020, and 2021 due to low returns of hatchery fish.
“If we see large returns in future runs, we can take action to potentially open this area again,” said Mike Gauvin, the state’s Recreational Fisheries Program Manager.
The state will codify another temporary rule by allowing the harvest of three adult spring Chinook salmon per day from the Washington State line to Hells Canyon Dam. The rule has been approved and implemented temporarily each year since 2008. According to Gauvin, the change will “give anglers some certainty of this opportunity.”
Additionally, the state also has removed the bag limits on walleye fish in the Willamette and Gilbert River to better protect native species. Walleye are non-native to Oregon and are a predator in the Columbia River Basin. The regulation change is intended to provide additional conservation protections for native wild species.