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Senate Resources hears final day of Upper Cook Inlet fish testimony

Posted: March 29, 2014 - 9:42pm

A final day of testimony for Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Dialogue in the Senate Resources committee wrapped up as members heard from Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff on a myriad of issues in the Cook Inlet marine and freshwater fisheries.

After nearly an hour of testimony from ADFG sportfish division director Charlie Swanton and central region supervisor Tracy Lingnau on salmon stocks, management plans and ongoing fisheries research senators quizzed staff on testimony they’d heard during what chairwoman Sen. Cathy Giessel, R- Anchorage, called “fish week.”

As testimony ended, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, led the way with questions touching on habitat, flexibility in management of the area’s commercial fisheries and the ailing early run of Kenai River king salmon.

Micciche asked if ADFG had done any broad habitat studies on the Kenai River in recent years.

“We’re more focused on those areas that appear to be impacted by recreational anglers,” Swanton said. “I think the (Board of Fisheries) actually instructed a couple areas additional to close to recreational anglers along the bank, but we haven’t done any intensive work in that regard.”

Giessel asked if ADFG staff worked closely with the state’s Board of Fisheries to generate management plans and provisions within those plans.

“Are your recommendations typically taken by the board? Does the board have its ideas most of the time,” Giessel said.

Swanton said responsiveness between the board and ADFG “depends on the board” and both sides generated ideas for management plans.

Several questions centered around northern pike, an invasive species widely considered to be decimating salmon populations in the Mat-Su Valley.

Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, said she had been in Alaska for 50 years and had yet to catch a king salmon, but spent time fishing in the Mat-Su area.

Fairclough asked for a breakdown of the pike problem in the area, the migration habits of the fish and how ADFG managers typically eradicated the fish.

Swanton said ADFG used, among other methods, a chemical called rotenone — a biological agent that affects the cellular respiration of fish, essentially causing them to stop breathing —to control pike populations on the Kenai Peninsula.

“It doesn’t sound, I would think it sounds good to most Alaskans to put poison in the water. Period,” Fairclough said. “But people do want salmon runs to continue and pike, at least certainly were alluded to earlier this week as part of the problem.”

Fairclough asked if ADFG managers had considering applying the chemical— which Swanton said was usually applied in the fall—in the winter when the water was frozen so the chemical might affect a smaller area.

“I was just wondering if, in an effort to protect our water and our salmon, if there was a way to go after those pesky pike in the winter,” she said.

Giessel said the questions from Fairclough and other resources committee members who were not familiar with fisheries issues were the focus of the three-days of meetings.

The Senate Resources committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Giessel said the committee doesn’t often hear from the latter.

“If there’s a bill coming through, you know you hear people’s opinions on each side of the bill, but never just kind of a big overview and hearing from all of the different user groups,” Giessel said. “So that was my goal, to inform the committee.”

Overall, ten user groups were represented and then the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and Kenai Watershed Forum gave presentations on the last day of public testimony.

“We kind of hear the aspects from the different user groups that have a stake in this whole thing and then these other two aquaculture and watershed forum who could give us more of the biology and science,” Giessel said. “It was just very informative and all my committee members enjoyed it. I don’t know if it was just a break from hearing bills, but they said they learned a lot and enjoyed it.”

As she had during the second day of testimony, Giessel said again that she had no particular plan for what to do with the Cook Inlet-centric fisheries information.

“It’s not like this will inform a piece of legislation or anything, I just felt that it was going to be helpful going forward,” Giessel said. “We appoint Board of Fisheries members and we confirm them, we interview them, this might help us in asking more pertinent questions because we’ve got a bit larger of a picture now of the Mat-Su and Kenai area and just — in the future — when we do have fisheries-type bills coming to us now, we’ve got a bit more background.”

Giessel said the committee would ideally be able to hear from fisheries in other parts of the state in future legislative sessions.

“You just get so inundated with oil and gas that it just monopolizes our time,” she said. “So this was an opportunity to branch out a little bit.

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

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