Balancing the fish board scales

How is it that a nominee to the Board of Fisheries can be the subject of outspoken opposition and fail to be confirmed one year, then be confirmed by without so much as a peep of opposition the next?

 

We’re thrilled to see Robert Ruffner of Soldotna confirmed to a seat on the Board of Fisheries. Ruffner, the former longtime executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, brings not just his extensive fish habitat experience to the board, but also an uncanny ability to bring groups with far different interests together to work toward a common goal. We’re hoping he can continue to do just that with the often contentious fish board process.

But why is it that half the Legislature thought he was the wrong person for the job last year, but had no objections this year? According to comments by some of those legislators, it all has to do with which seat he’ll be sitting in. Last year, the rationale goes, Ruffner was being appointed to a “sport fishing” seat, whereas this year, it’s a “commercial fishing” seat.

That line of reasoning, quite frankly, makes us cringe. Lawmakers are essentially telling nominees that in order to be considered, they need to be beholden to a specific interest group. Indeed, during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Bill Wielechowski told the nominees as much when it comes to personal-use and sport fishing.

“I just really urge you all to consider that — consider the needs of hundreds of thousands of Alaskans who like to live that lifestyle,” Wielechowski said. “That’s an important issue. You’re our proxy when you go to vote. I urge you to strongly consider the needs of my constituents and the needs of Southcentral when you go to vote.”

Certainly, all three nominees, and the fish board as a whole, should consider the needs of personal-use and sport fishers with each proposal. But the board also should consider commercial fishing, and above all, should consider the fish. After all, without healthy runs, no one will be fishing.

We’re hopeful that moving forward, balance on the fish board will no longer be defined by two firmly entrenched sides on every issue, but rather by a group of policy makers who will each consider all aspects of an issue and come to a decision that provides a reasonable solution for all stakeholders.

We realize that’s a lofty goal, but for the long term sustainability of Alaska’s fisheries, we need to start thinking that way.

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