Personal-use priority bill divisive for Kenai fisheries, council members say

Kenai city officials fear that proposed legislation from a Chugiak lawmaker will hamper the city’s efforts to clean up its dipnet fishery and cause further division among personal-use, sport and commercial fishermen.

 

House Bill 18, introduced by Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, places priority in personal-use fisheries when restrictions are enacted for management goals. Currently the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages all fisheries — sport, personal-use, commercial and educational — on the same level, said Pat Shields, upper Cook Inlet area management biologist for commercial fisheries for Fish and Game.

If the bill passes as is currently written, personal-use fisheries would close last.

Council members Ryan Marquis and Bob Molloy are afraid the bill would lead to another 24-hour dipnet fishery opening. If commercial and sport fisheries are closed and the personal-use dipnet fishery remains open, Fish and Game may move to open it for 24 hours during the month it is open to ensure enough fish are caught, Molloy said.

The 24-hour dipnet fishery opening last year prevented city crews from effectively cleaning waste left on the beach, and council has officially opposed the 24-hour opening in a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell.

“I think the house bill is an example of someone that’s putting the priorities ahead of his constituents, not of the people here,” said Ryan Marquis, council member and vice mayor.

Molloy said the council has traditionally supported equal harvest opportunities for all user groups, and the bill would be a drastic departure from that. He does not support the bill, he said.

“Allocations should be based on science,” he said. They should not be based on politics, he said.

Mayor Pat Porter and council members Terry Bookey, Tim Navarre and Marquis do not support the bill as it is written.

Stoltze introduced a similar bill, HB 20, in 2012 that failed, and HB 18 is a continuation of his efforts, he said.

“It’s a priority for folks where I live — big population centers — and it’s one of those things that there are some real dividing lines between the other uses,” Stoltze said.

He acknowledged that his bill may be unpopular in other districts where commercial and sport fishing are more prominent season-long than personal-use, but he is putting Alaska residents first by making personal-use fisheries a priority during times of fishing restrictions.

“I’m representing the point of view of a pretty broad group of users,” Stoltze said. “It’s almost like the Natural Resource Permanent Fund Dividend — a lot of folks have gotten used to that. They put their dividend in the bank or apply it to bills. They put their fish in the freezer and apply that protein to their late summer-winter diet.”

But the fisheries are more than a source of food for many families in Kenai — they are a source of income, Molloy said. He said there would be an outcry in Kenai if the bill passed as is written.

Council member Tim Navarre is in Juneau meeting with state legislators. He said he will brief the council at its Wednesday meeting on HB 18 once he has spoken with Stoltze.

Bookey said he will continue to monitor the bill for any changes or roadblocks.

“My initial thought is it doesn’t sound like sound policy,” Bookey said. “It’s not necessarily scientific and biological rezoning on why he wants to allot the fishery the way he does.”

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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