Third time the charm for herring catch shares?

The state Board of Fisheries begins a 10-day meeting tomorrow in Ketchikan to consider dozens of Southeast Alaska finfish proposals.

Proposals 233 and 234 are especially noteworthy. These would create equal harvest shares for Sitka Sound sac roe herring seiners.

The board has rejected the idea twice before, in 2006 and 2009.

Supporters, however, argue the imperative for equal shares has never been greater.

Converting the fishery from a cutthroat competition to an equal split among the 48 seiners would tame the harvest, improve safety and boost the quality of the catch, they say.

"Everyone in the fishery should realize safety in the fishery has deteriorated to a despicable level and something needs to be done," says Proposal 233, offered by Bill Menish.

The name Menish might sound familiar. During last year's fishery, his boat sustained $40,000 in damage in a collision with another vessel. Daniel Crome, who was running the second boat, is being prosecuted on a charge of reckless operation.

Menish's proposal says the roughhouse tactics at Sitka have become increasingly premeditated, with more seiners joining "combines" in which some members use their boats or nets to block competitors as other members fish.

One argument against equal shares is that the top seiners, the "highliners," would be denied the chance to compete for a lucrative, blockbuster catch. Instead, they would net the same share of the harvest as everyone else.

But Menish notes that combine seiners already are engaging in catch sharing.

And the sponsor of Proposal 234, the Sitka Herring Group, cites state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission data to argue that the notion of consistent highliners at Sitka is "a myth."

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is "neutral" on the two proposals.

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