Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said it well when, at the conclusion of a panel discussion on Cook Inlet fishery issues, she applauded the panelists’ willingness to talk about the issues in a public forum — something she said that, in her experience, does not always happen in other parts of the state.
“Typically, they would choose to just bury it and not talk about it publicly and the fighting continues and it becomes more difficult,” Murkowski said. “So you’ve taken the first step today in a very public forum.”
We’d like to echo those sentiments, and encourage the public dialogue on Cook Inlet fisheries to continue.
The so-called Cook Inlet fish wars have been waged for decades. When the salmon returns are strong, the conflicts tends to simmer down to minor skirmishes here and there as stakeholders are too busy fishing to argue. But when salmon abundance is low or declining, as it has been for king salmon over the past few seasons, the battles rage on as all sides fight to protect their livelihoods.
In that climate, when anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion, it takes a great deal of courage to sit on a panel and engage in a public discussion on the topic. What’s more, Wednesday’s panelists spoke openly and respectfully on topics that could have easily devolved into shouting matches. Many attendees left the event feeling they had learned something new, or gleaned some insight from hearing a different perspective. That in and of itself is a tremendous accomplishment.
No single panel discussion is going to solve every issue with fishery management. Even a two-week fish board meeting isn’t going to address every problem. Any proposed solutions that may be forthcoming are going to spark spirited debate. After decades of conflict, the sides are dug in too deep for the conversation to be an easy one. Was Wednesday’s discussion the beginning of a cease-fire in the fish wars? It’s too soon to draw any conclusions, and we expect that the decorum displayed by the panelists may be tested when the fish board convenes this week.
But fishing, be it sport, commercial, personal-use of subsistence, affects our entire community. Talking with each other — not at each other — about the impacts of management policies is the only way to move our community forward.