We’ll admit it, we can be a tough crowd down here on the Kenai Peninsula, especially when it comes to fishery management issues. Nevertheless, we were pleased to see Gov. Sean Parnell, his fisheries adviser Stefanie Moreland and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell visit Kenai this week.
Their visit comes on the heels of what was one of the weakest returns of Kenai River king salmon on record, leading to restrictions and closures for east side Cook Inlet setnetters and king salmon sport fisheries across the region.
Part of the frustration from sport anglers and commercial fishermen has been a perceived disconnect between those making the decisions and those affected, and a lack of transparency about how management decisions are being made.
A visit from Parnell and Campbell doesn’t necessarily answer all of our questions. But seeing that top officials are involved in the discussion at the local level is a good step toward addressing those concerns, and we hope to see both of them back in the neighborhood from time to time in the weeks and months ahead.
That said, it’s also time to take a look at the fishery regulatory process. The Board of Fish, which establishes fishing regulations, takes up Upper Cook Inlet salmon management on a three-year cycle. Yet the board has not met on the central Kenai Peninsula since 1999. And according to the board support page on the Fish and Game website, the 2014 meeting is tentatively scheduled for Anchorage — which brings us back to our concerns about transparency in the regulatory process. The board is scheduled to meet for two weeks to make decisions that will affect a large number of central Peninsula residents; it’s time for the board to make those decisions in a venue where more of those who will be impacted will be able to be present.
Fisheries management is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and contentious issues on the Peninsula. There are no easy answers, and just about every decision is going to upset one group or another. We had the opportunity to start the conversation face-to-face with the governor and commissioner; it’s time we had the same opportunity with the body that makes the rules.