A recent opinion piece in the Clarion by Ricky Gease, Executive Director for Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA), claimed to enlighten us on two different issues in a “fact based and truthful” manner when in fact they were neither. Instead, he chose the route of misinformation intended to mislead our community into believing their recent lobbying efforts to oust Board of Fisheries (BOF) member, Vince Webster of Naknek, were justified. KRSA’s actions in this regard were sleazy at best and further illustrate how far this organization will go to maintain control over all aspects of fisheries management on the Kenai River and Upper Cook Inlet.
In retrospect, I suspect Mr. Webster was probably too honest and knowledgeable for KRSA’s liking. They claimed that the main reason for wanting him gone was that he voted to support the new Kenai River Late-Run Chinook escapement goals and advocated for a lower OEG in times of low abundance presented by the BOF Task Force he co-chaired. When in actuality, all seven members of the BOF voted unanimously to accept the department’s escapement goal recommendations and while co-chairing the Task Force, Mr. Webster stated several times that a lower OEG would probably not be acceptable. The Task Force acted on its own and as Co-Chair he was not part of the vote. The simple truth is that they wanted him off the BOF because he was one of the members they couldn’t find a way to control.
This op-ed also claimed that the new lower end adjustment of the Late-Run escapement goal from 17,800 down to 15,000 was bad for the resource and an attempt by the department to provide more fishing opportunity for commercial fishermen. This is simply not true, but it makes for a good sound bite to further vilify the commercial fishing industry. The facts are that Department scientists recognized the necessity to convert these numbers to be more reflective of the actual counting differences in transitioning to a technically improved sonar system. The old split-beam sonar counts were biased high because they counted too many Sockeye as Kings and the new Didson sonar is supposed to eliminate much of this duplicity and give a more accurate count of actual Kings passing by, thus producing a lower count but relative to the old sonar numbers historically calculated. It had nothing to do with allocations to any particular user group.
KRSA is an advocate for the guided sport fish industry with an agenda to eliminate commercial fisheries from Cook Inlet to perpetuate and advance their cause. Their bullying tactics, in this regard, are cause for a lot of conflict and economic uncertainty within our community and completely uncalled for.
KRSA has also been instrumental in keeping the BOF meetings in Anchorage because they know private anglers and other users, without a financial iron in the fire, cannot afford to attend, thus they can control the outcomes of regulatory changes with the barrage of individuals and consultants they can afford to send. This political maneuvering has also cost our local businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in lost revenue they could have derived if some of the meetings were hosted in our area.
Guiding/tourism and commercial fishing are both valuable assets to our economic structure and an important part of our community lifeblood. It is important that they work together on harvest allocations and resource protection. It will probably not happen though as long as we have one aggressive entity, such as KRSA, that strives to control all outcomes for the benefit of one segment of our community based on the destruction of another.
Their current business model is causing too much friction in our community and pits guides against private anglers and sport fishermen against commercial fishermen. It doesn’t have to be this way and is unacceptable. We should all be able to work together to resolve our fishery issues.
Local mayors, politicians, administrators, chamber of commerce’s and businesses leaders should weigh their relationships with KRSA until they change various aspects of their business model to project a more respectful nature. Right now they are not very well liked in their own community. Money and power aren’t as important as how you treat your neighbors and fellow citizens.
Dwight Kramer is a “Joe Fisherman” private angler and concerned resource user who has fished the Kenai River since 1983. He was a sportfishing representative on the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force.