Valdez

File photo by Kelly Bostian/News-Miner

Fairbanks fishermen have raised concerns over a strict set of mandates for sport and personal fishermen using the Valdez Harbor.

On April 21, the Valdez City Council amended one of its municipal health mandates, and fishermen are now exempt from a mandatory two-week self-quarantine imposed on outsiders entering the city.

The city of Valdez’s Health Mandate No. 1 states that any person arriving in Valdez from a community with a confirmed case of COVID-19 must “self-quarantine and maintain appropriate social distance from others (about 6 feet) for 14 days from the date of your last arrival in Valdez.” Up until last week, only those classified by the state of Alaska as working in a “critical infrastructure” industry were offered an exemption from the mandate.

According to Allie Ferko, public information officer for the city of Valdez, the Valdez City Council was prompted to address the fishing community after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game published a list of “Sport and Personal Use Fishing Restrictions” on April 13.

“At the time that that press release was issued, there was not an exemption in our local health mandate for quarantine for anyone other than critical or essential workers,” Ferko said.

In response, the city introduced a “fishing agreement” form. The document outlined a number of mandates, including things like “No Fisher may shelter or lodge in Valdez or the Valdez Harbor” and “If you should re-enter Valdez Harbor after completing fishing, Sport and Personal Fishers shall leave Valdez immediately.” The document also required the user to provide various information on the specifics of their fishing trip.

Some Fairbanks-based fishermen were concerned that both the stringent self-quarantine mandate and the agreement would essentially shut them out of the season. Among them was Fairbanks resident JT McComas-Roe.

“I’m one of many Fairbanks residents who uses the Valdez Harbor,” McComas-Roe said. “Probably half the harbor is filled by Fairbanks boats owners.”

Valdez Harbormaster Sarah Von Bargen said that little more than half of the recreational vessels with slips in the Valdez Harbor are owned by residents from the Fairbanks area. McComas-Roe said the fishing season is typically in full swing by Memorial Day, but the restrictions would have essentially canceled it for many Fairbanks residents.

“We pay our moorage fees at the beginning of the year,” he said. “What that mandate and the agreement say, is basically ... you can pass through town but you can’t stay. I’m not the only person who will consider this to be onerous.”

On April 21, the Valdez City Council appeared to do an abrupt about-face. Not only did it vote to do away with the fishing agreement, the council approved exempting fishermen and hunters from the self-quarantine mandate.

According to Ferko, the decision was made in response to another notice put out by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which assured residents that sports and personal use fishing were still permissible. The notice states “although travel between communities is prohibited under the health mandate, the public may still travel to fishing locations.”

The fishing agreement was, she said, “a stop gap” while the council looked at ways to keep fishing boats on the water, while maintaining public safety.

“Fishing is a big thing in Valdez and especially for our Interior neighbors,” Ferko said. “A lot of people come down from Fairbanks to fish.”

The exemption is in effect from April 21 until May 20, unless the council votes otherwise. Ferko said the council has a number of special meetings scheduled and expects council members will continue to discuss and update mandates as the state continues to issue new guidelines.

For Fairbanks residents planning on taking a fishing trip to Valdez this summer, Ferko said, they should keep adhering to the same social distancing techniques and health guidelines as they are currently doing.

“It’s just the same behaviors that people are practicing in Fairbanks,” she said. “It’s social distancing, making sure you’re standing at least six feet away from people outside of your household. It’s limiting time spent with people outside your household. And washing your hands, of course.”

The city of Valdez is encouraging the use of face masks by members of the public due to reports of asymptomatic cases. The hours and operations of local businesses may continue to be impacted by state health mandates and fishermen should aim to have all the provisions they need prior to traveling to Valdez.

For updates on the local mandates in Valdez, visit the city’s website at bit.ly/2W3wE6W

Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.