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Looking for answers

Local fishermen meet with state and local authorities to discuss season failure

Posted: September 22, 2012 - 9:06pm  |  Updated: November 27, 2012 - 8:39pm
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Megan Smith comforts Mitzi Blossom as Blossom chokes up while addressing a panel during a town hall meeting to discuss fishing issues Friday afternoon. Blossom said five generations of her family had commercial fished for 52 years.  Photo by M. Scott Moon
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Megan Smith comforts Mitzi Blossom as Blossom chokes up while addressing a panel during a town hall meeting to discuss fishing issues Friday afternoon. Blossom said five generations of her family had commercial fished for 52 years.

Emotions ran high during a Friday town meeting at the Peninsula Grace Brethren Church in Soldotna where fishermen gathered to talk about economic disaster relief and hear Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers discuss the disastrous 2012 fishing season. 

The meeting was broken into two parts and brought more than 100 fisherman during the first half, which dealt with economic relief questions. The crowd swelled to more than 140 when Fish and Game’s Commissioner Cora Campbell, commercial fishing division director Jeff Regnart and sport fishing division director Charlie Swanton took the stage to answer questions about their management of the 2012 fishing season.

During the meeting, managers discussed several often-repeated questions about the establishment of a new DIDSON-based in-river goal for the Kenai River, the weight of their in-season management decisions and how much authority the commissioner had to override the Board of Fish.


Economic relief questions

A loud, persistent buzz coupled with a low tone of feedback from the PA system threatened to drown out audience members each time they asked a question of the representatives from the governor’s office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state’s department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Ironically, feedback was the topic of many of the questions as fishermen repeatedly said the state and federal government didn’t seem hear local voices as it considered how best to respond to the federal disaster declaration in the Cook Inlet. 

A $10.9 million estimate of economic loss to the east side setnet fishery, used to justify the need for a disaster declaration in Gov. Sean Parnell’s August request for aid, was a point of contention.

“He came out with a $10 million estimate of the disaster. You’re talking about a 50-75 million dollar project here; 449 setnet permit holders,” said Richard McGahan “I mean -— 10 million dollars — that just goes to show how far he is removed from what’s going on. We sent 20 emails to the governor’s office with no answer. The commissioner won’t answer anything. So that’s why we’re sitting here, because we can’t get any cooperation.”

Susan Bell, commissioner of the state’s department of commerce, said she understood the concern over the figure but that people needed to understand it was an initial estimate to help people understand the scale of the disaster. 

“I think it’s important that (the) $10 million estimate came from that first look and we’re in the process of looking now at all of the facts,” she said. “But, we needed to put the data in the governor’s request in order to get to this step.”

Moderator and local setnetter Jim Butler said it was incumbent upon local fishermen to cooperate with each of the agencies helping the state’s congressional delegation with its appropriation request from Congress to ensure the final figure was accurate. 

“I’ve been involved in a lot of different disasters in different parts of the country and Alaska. I’ve never seen the first number be the number. It’s a placeholder. It’s to get someone’s attention, to say, ‘We’ve got a big problem up here,’ now let’s start scrutinizing it,” Butler said. “The more prepared the fishermen can help these agencies become, the higher the success. I don’t think anyone should be locked into the first number. But, as you go up with the number it’s critical ... if you start putting numbers out there that aren’t credible; you’ve got a big problem.”

Fishermen were asked to fill out an estimated disaster economic injury worksheet to help the Department of Commerce better understand the scale of the disaster in the Cook Inlet. 

Some asked about compensation to their crews, employees of fish-buying stations and other people who draw income from the fishing industry despite not being permit holders. 

Brennan J. Norden, of Kasilof, however, wanted to know about sport fishing and a separation of remuneration between fishermen on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. 

“You have the Kenai River Guide Association ... but you do have a small group of people, like myself, that don’t belong to the guide association and I want to make sure our voice is heard in the state because we do bring a big chunk of money to the Kasilof and the money stays in Kasilof,” he said. “I know there aren’t a lot of sport fishermen in here right now but I just want to make sure that there is someone maybe representing the Kasilof River too because that’s a very important fishery.”

While the disaster declaration under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act only covered the commercial fishery failure, speakers said there was a possibility a congressional appropriation of funds could also include money for sport fishermen and others in the industry. 

The governor’s disaster declaration request included a reference to the king salmon sport fishery as being one of the principal economic drivers for the regional economy. Speakers said that data could be used to help craft the state’s request for aid.


Fish and Game answers management questions

Mitzi Blossom, along with everyone else in the room, heard Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre as he exhorted audience members to remain calm during the discussion.

But, despite the tremble and occasional break in her voice she grew louder until she was nearly shouting at Campbell, Regnart and Swanton as she described her setnet season.

“I fish down in Ninilchik, can’t even see the Kenai River but you shut me down this summer and wouldn’t let us harvest reds,” she said. “Then along came this beautiful, beautiful run of pink salmon. We called. ‘Hey, we’re willing to harvest them.’ Now tell me why we couldn’t harvest them? We were willing to fish for .35 cents a pound ... Why are you doing this to us? I don’t understand. I do not understand why you’re taking it out on us.”

Blossom said she spent $11,000 to $13,000 a year between June and August and had been fishing in the inlet for several decades. 

“So I don’t think that it’s just the tourists bringing in money that time of year,” she said. “I’ve been a setnetter since 1960, our family fish site is now five generations (old). We’ve given up so much of our fishing time. Your early run is in trouble, we haven’t fished the early run since about 1964 and yet the setnetters get blamed for everything.”

Campbell said people should not interpret management restrictions as blame. 

“It’s really important to understand that when we have a really low abundance of a stock, everybody that harvests that stock may be asked to take restrictions but I think that’s really different than saying that somebody is to blame for a decline,” she said. 

Several people called into the question the nature of the commissioner’s authority relative to the Board of Fish’s management plans and Campbell said she heard that question regularly in-season as well. 

“There is a provision in the management plan that was invoked this summer that had never been invoked before, that is actually a very blunt tool ... if the in-river fishery closes the setnet fishery closes,” she said. “Then the question that came up is, in some situations the commissioner has the authority to do something other than what was directed by the board. What would those circumstances be?”

Campbell said in order to go outside of the management plan she would have to have new information not known by the board when it established the management plan and there would have to be a compelling reason for her to exercise her emergency order authority to override a provision of the plan.

The description of a provision of the Kenai River management plan which closes the east side setnet fishery when the in-river sport fishery is closed as a blunt tool was revisited several times.

When asked if he felt the management plan was effective in achieving its goals, Regnart said he believed it did, although not without consequences.

“Everybody here in this room felt the weight of that plan this year,” he said. “It’ll get the job done, but it does it in a way that users can pay a very high price.”

The audience was told if Fish and Game’s agenda change request was approved during the Board of Fish’s two-day October meeting, they could expect the department would have a new goal by January, which would be released to the public by February.

An audience member asked how the department would determine its new inriver goal and whether fishermen could have some idea of what that goal would be so they could make decisions about the next season. 

“I think it would be wrong of me to turn around and try to speculate as to what that final number would be,” Swanton said. 

Swanton apologized to the crowd for not having anything more substantive but said that given the magnitude of what happened during the last fishing season he would rather wait until the department had analyzed all of its data. 

Robin Nyce, who setnets on Salamatof Beach, asked Regnart if the department felt responsible for how poorly the season went for local fishermen. 

“Do you feel you could have been better at mitigating, before the season, the disaster that was expected? My husband and I spent about $15,000, which we didn’t need to spend this year,” Nyce said. “Do you believe that there is, at some point, an understanding on your part that these are a bunch of small businesses making financial decisions before the season? We would never have spent that if we had any idea the season was going to go the way it has.”

Regnart said the department had the responsibility to put out the best forecast it could. 

“My hope is that in most cases it works, some cases it doesn’t and this is an example,” he said. “We will continue to try to get better at forecasting, try to put the tools we currently have to even better use ... I can’t tell you today that it wouldn’t happen again in the future. Somewhere in the state we will miss a forecast and there will be a cost paid by the users, that will happen.”

This article has been edited to reflect the correct spelling of Robin Nyce's name. 

Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/22/12 - 09:51 pm
Heartache and dispare

I understand the heartache and dispare by many people that depended on salmon fishing for their livelyhood, and i'm sorry for them all. Placing blame on fish and game as the main cause will not solve the issue, and i even wonder if they are totally to blame other than they restricted setnetters from fishing the sockeye's from fear of to many kings being caught. But fish and game allowed the drift fleet to fish and they catch a huge number of kings as well. It does seem like a planned attempt to cause division amoung Alaskans, but maybe not, even though thats exactly what has occured.
The Great Divider in Cheif, Obama and his worshipers, both Dems, & Repubs alike are guilty for regulations at every level of society, not ment for good, but for control and division for the purpose of DIVIDE & CONQUER.
We have not seen anything yet and i can see a day coming real soon where Alaskans will have to become more dependant on family & friends who are like minded hard working people fighting against those that would have everything we have for free, even to the point of forced acquisition if they are allowed to do so. The Division of people into fighting groups in order to divide & conquer has always been the plan for those that seek to control everyone & everything.
So get ready and prepare for the coming storm against those that would take all they can without working for it while supported by the government as they do so.
Stock up while you can and liquidate nonesentials & toys that will be of no value in supporting your life or loved ones lives.

If my people who are called by name will humble themselves and pray unto me, i will hear their prayers and heal their land.
Just maybe it's not to late for God to hear & heal or prayers, just maybe.

KenaiKardinal88 09/23/12 - 02:12 am
ESSN's Not Alaskans

Money for nothing! East side setnetters work part time. When the fish aren't there, they don't make as much money. Now they want a BAILOUT from the US Taxpayers.

We don't have the money, we're $16 TRILLION in debt and we borrow from China.

You violate what it takes to be an Alaskan, and steal from hard-working American taxpayers. Sickos.

drjofak 09/23/12 - 07:15 am
Like A Broken Record

Whatever the subject, Watchman concludes it's Obamas fault, the end is near, and then he finishes with some half baked, vaguely relevant, biblical quote. You can go on line and review the daily harvest numbers, the drift fleet catches few Kings. The new healthcare law provides mental health care for those with treatable conditions. If everything wrong in this country, and your life, is because of Obama, yet before his election life was perfect, you have a treatable mental condition. Take advantage of the care available, it will make the next your years more enjoyable, for both you and those around you.

garycoopersr 09/23/12 - 10:23 am
ESSN not Alaskans?,

Where did Kardinal88 come from? Most Eastside Setnetters are not only Alaskans but very longtime Alaskans and several of the families I know involved in this fishery have been doing it for many generations. I have never asked for a hand out , just the opportunity to fish and take the seasons as they came. To lose the opportunity to fish for questionable reasons that ultimately will not fix the problem is very disheartening.Please get more informed before making such accusations. I also work out side of the fishery and have for more than 50 years! Don't paint everyone with the same brush or roller in this case. Lets fix the problems where they are created and not bow to politics and popularity contests, we will all be better off for it.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/23/12 - 02:53 pm
drjofax so your differant than me?

Your mesage is absolutely no differant than mine, only with your perspective and hope in mankind and willing to believe & depend on mans governments rather than Gods as i do.
I never said it's all about Obama, nor have i ever said i have woes because of him.
I have said repeatedly that it's EVERY PARTY thats involved in the working towards a OWO and total control of all things and that everyone that does not believe in the True Hope of Fundamental changes found in Jesus Christ should and do have woes of concern. The desire of Obama and people that don't accept Gods rules is to replace all that God said was his and good for mankind with their things or false hopes that are not natural or good or dependable what so ever.

drjofax you to have a treatable mental condition know as sin and rejection of Gods commands. So please take advantage of the FREE gift afforded you under Gods insurance plan found in Jesus Christ alone.
If you do get treatment it will be much enjoyable for you and all those around you, even me, for ETERNITY, not just years to come.
You need to look towards eternal, not just temperal, which is all you seem to have hope in for now under the Obamanation of Desolations dreams and false hopes which are Hopeless.

So who is a broken record with their ideals, when my ideals in Gods way alone are hopeful for All that would accept it freely, while your ideals which you express continually are hopeless and eternally costly for you and everyone that rejects Gods way?
I chose to place my hope in God alone, which costs me NOTHING if there is no God or eternal judgement. You on the other hand chose to place your hope in self and men rejecting Gods plans and it will cost you EVERYTHING for eternity if your wrong and there is a God with his desired ways of acceptance.
Lets make a wager on who is right or wrong want too?
I'm willing to take that gamble to save my soul for eternity claiming that God is the only way, as you also seem to be willing to gamble with the loss of your soul claiming that God is not the only way.
So lets say Good Luck with our gambles and everyone that agrees with each of us will some day see, OK?
Thanks for your opinion though.
It's sad the forced dependance being placed on people by the govt. of men by regulations at every turn, as we are continually stripped of our hopes & fundamentals as a free hard working society. Now a society which is becoming a totally dependant worthless herds of Sheeple under this False Shepard Obama that could care less about anyone no matter race color or creed, but promised that he did.
Sometimes people get what they wish for, even if they don't really understand how distructive their wish really is, and by the time they wakeup it's to late to change course and must suffer their loss.

Yahweh and Yeshua are Greater by the way!

Seafarer 09/24/12 - 08:09 am
Watchman Fall From The Wall

I really wanted to post in here with some intellegent and coherant fisherfolk. The comments made by this watchman person are distracting, off topic, and lunatic.

The allocation war between commercial fishermen and "sport fishermen" is getting so old, yet I see no end in sight. As long as guides call themselves "sport" fishermen, it will go on ad nauseum. These out-of-state and instate guides ARE commercial fishermen! They make money from the fishery. That is what the powers that be must make them understand.

One fishery is no more noble than the other, though it hurts me to say that. I am a retired commercial fishergal. So, yeah, I do get the Salmon=Money thing. My entire life has been spent for a fish. When ya think about it, it's a little silly, ain't it? Your whole life for another species. But, of course, there is the almighty dollar and who gets it more than the other. More fish, more dollar. How do you calculate what you lost? Take it from your best year, or your worst year, or an average of the two? How much you spent or would have spent at Redden Net or True Value for bait and tackle? And then, of course, the folks who own those businesses also have to figure out what you would or would have spent along with how much they think they've lost from you. How glad I am I'm not an accountant! Fish Tickets were hard enough! I would like to see the formula used to figure all this out...

Kapco 09/24/12 - 08:23 am
its about kings

this is all about the lack or presumed lack of kings. while the local counting/forcasting methods are definitely suspect there are some facts from previous years that we can learn from. number one in these facts is that the east side netters take more kings than any other user group--maybe not every single year, but overall the numbers bear that out. so, it stands to reason if there is a group that should be curtailed, it should be the group that has the biggest impact on the fish locally. where attention needs to be paid by all groups involved is in the gulf and bering where the vast majority of the kings are being decimated in the drag fisheries in bycatch. as long as this activity goes on unchecked, all the commercial, particularly the east side netters and sport intrests will have to argue over is left-overs.

Suss 09/24/12 - 09:50 am

Regarding the wacky wall watching wonder, I rely on the ignore user option, simply remove the crazies from your online Clarion life.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/24/12 - 11:01 am
seafarer i'm a commercial fisher of souls

Please excuse me while i cry about your observation of my posts. It is all about God and the fight against evil and people that will take everything you have by any means.
God has a plan for the Good of mankind, mankind has another plan for the total control of mankind with Satans help and it's evil.
Your right it's all about the money thing and working for things that can be taken away any second by some one in control over this world and commerce, as is the case this year with the forced closures of Red fishing.
This push for control of humans has always resulted in fighting and even major death between those that will submit and those that resist.
As a retired union power lineman thats been in Alaska for 39 yrs of my 61, i must say this. I too use to work my heart out for that almighty dollar fighting at every turn against others that might take it from me to no avail and lost much from 401K until i realized they are not for me, but against me and turned to God for his security which no theaf can steal or rust can ruin.
I am now a fisher of men, women, people for the Lord and my 801K is secure for eternity where as my 401K was not and at every turn more was being stripped away by those that control all commerce and will some day force ALL people to join their Union or else.

You see seafarer, my hope is built on the Lord now, not on other people like you who still believe we can do it our selves with out any help from God. The trouble is there are only TWO CHOICES, either be controled by Gods plan, or mankinds plan which is controled by Satan, the god of this present evil world's systems.

As i said before we have not seen anything yet in the desired total control of ALL humans in every aspect of life or commerce in order to sustain life and if we don't see Revelation 13; which warns us about the coming One World Union and it's total control at every turn. Then all i can say is you need to read the SIGNS better.
People need people to really care about each other, not govt. control which is ment to Divide and Conquer.

P.S. Hang on to the gunnels of your boat and have a life line safty devise on when at sea because there are alot of gimme, gimme, people out there that will cut you loose for what you have and all this while they lie about caring for you and only wanting to help. This also applies to being on land. People just don't give a #### about each other in our natural form, thats why we must be lead by the spirit of God to do whats right and just in caring for others more than self.

northernlights 09/24/12 - 10:57 am
Just a thought

Biologist have submitted thier findings for the last several years regarding the low runs of Kings. Water conditions, bank errosions etc. When thier findings were submitted they threw them out, guides did not want anything to stand in thier way of making money. Some guides, I beleive some of the local ones have an interest for the welfare of our fish and river, but there are some who will not see past thier selfishness and greed. Had the river of been taken care of several years ago we wouldnt be faced with emergencies. I want to know, how many guides are from outside? How many come up here only for the big bucks and leave. For those guides who live outside, I could care less. Their only interest is money or they wouldnt be coming here, they live for the moment, get what you can and when its gone, they are gone. When you stake your business on tourists only, your gambling and you know it. Perhaps its time to change. Have a business that serves and provides for the locals, if the locals don't make your business successful then change. Greed is blind it only sees it on others. I also hope one day the deep sea trawlers will be outlawed.

freedomlibertytruth 09/24/12 - 01:52 pm
Celebrate your success progressives you

Celebrate your success progressives, you are putting the 1966 proposed map to socialism in full glorious bloom. The “Cloward & Piven Strategy” is working perfectly. They said it would take time to collapes the American system, and they were right. The strategy:

In the resulting chaos the populace will demand AND VOTE for a new economic system in which EVERYONE IS SUPPORTED BY THE STATE.

The left is winning, (why are they now complaining about debt?)

gfds98765 09/24/12 - 02:00 pm
The boy that cried “wolf” must be ignored

Don’t shut down the Clarion by using “ignore” buttons. These are the opinions of the members of your community. The rich & the poor, the young & the old, the left & the right, the workers & the takers; the cowboys that live in your town. You ignore them at your own peril, the old wives tale teaches us.
Oh never mind, life is better in the dark. it means others don't have to see and hear you either.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/24/12 - 02:53 pm
gfds98765 VERY GOOD!

I occasionally refer to the song in the Good Old Days in referance to the many signs all around us to make us aware.
SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE ARE SIGNS, DO THIS, DO THAT, CAN'T YOU READ THE SIGNS? There every where pointing to the End of an Age of time and a New Era or Age about to start, but first comes the seperating the wheat from the chaff and judgemant by fire.

This desire to curb or stop OUR Freedom of speach reminds me of the killing of Stephen found in the book of Acts 7:54-60 were Stephen was only talking about all the SIGNS God had given the Jews pertaining to the coming of THEIR Messiah according to the laws of God as promised.
What did they do, they began nashing their teeth and screaming and running with their ears covered they dragged him outside and killed him for sharing the truth of Yahweh Gods plan of redemtion for ALL of Mankind and that it was all about God not them and their ideas or rightious deeds of Hypocricy and mans desire to have it his way rather than Gods. READ THE SIGNS THAT ARE GIVEN OUT OF LOVE, NOT FEAR, PLEASE!

Yahweh and Yeshua are Greater by the Way!

lkpomn912 09/24/12 - 03:38 pm
the answer always is give them free money

Keep that free Socialist money coming, good plan
Once enough voters are on the dole, regardless of your party’s ideology, Dem, Indie, or Rep., that party will win elections if you promise to to keep the free money flowing.

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