Advice for the fish board

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Alaska Board of Fish (BOF) will meet soon regarding the Upper Cook Inlet management area. This every-third-year event will gather fishers of many kinds, managers, lawyers and scientists, all of whom will advise the seven members of the board regarding proposed changes to fisheries management. From this large gathering, conflicting advice will be heaped on 14 ears in rapid redundancy. I know that because I've attended numerous such meetings in the past 25 years.

So how will we know whose advice is good? In the same way I know what will occur. History.

We can look at recommendations given in the past and make predictions based on the success of previous offerings. One person who likely will give advice is Bob Penney. His Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) recently advised the BOF not to meet in Soldotna.

Sen. Tom Wagoner had worked hard to persuade government officials to hold the meetings here, home to the issues. Because of KRSA's bad advice, peninsula people will need to travel to Anchorage for a couple weeks or have little involvement.

Earlier this winter, Mr. Penney and Ron Rainey of KRSA advised Sen. Ted Stevens to forego efforts the senator was making to save the Tustumena Lake sockeye stocking project. Mr. Penney pointed out that he had, with his personal money, started a lawsuit that the Wilderness Society assumed and which was successful in removing the nearly 30-year-old stocking program. Stevens withdrew the stocking stipulation from the bill he was working on and the project is, at this time, dead.

At past BOF meetings, Mr. Penney hired stateside scientists, Steven Cramer and Ray Beamesderfer, who advised the board to raise Kenai River sockeye escapement goals. Certain local biologists and commercial fishers disputed this advice in fear the extra spawners would produce too many fry for food resources to support.

The goal was raised, however, and Fish and Game now reports that Skilak Lake fry are, in fact, starving. Progeny from the large Kenai River escapements of 2003 and 2004 are unlikely to contribute many adults to the returns of 2007-09.

A person might ask, why all the bad advice from Mr. Penney? King salmon. The common denominator in all these cases is king salmon.

If peninsula commercial fishers cannot attend Anchorage meetings, they won't interfere with more attempts to close commercial fisheries.

Closure of the Tustumena Lake stocking project may result in fewer openings for commercial fishers, as will poor sockeye returns to the Kenai River. With fewer commercial openings, more king salmon will be available for sport fishers. Is such action justified?

According to Fish and Game, about 20 percent of the late-run Kenai River king salmon are caught by setnetters.

The Penney advice likely will lead to significant losses in the commercial, personal use and sport sockeye fisheries but will effect only 20 percent of a single stock. They will not effect the the early run Kenai kings that have been allocated to sport fishers. Nor the Crooked Creek, Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, Stariski Creek, Anchor River and numerous streams of the Kachemak Bay area, nor the "winter" kings; all of which sport fishers already enjoy.

Assuming that commercial fishers lose half their openings in those years, the trade is in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 kings (maybe 150,000 pounds) for 500,000 to 1 million sockeye (4,500,000 pounds?). What a witty trade!

Past performance should disqualify Mr. Penney's future advice. And some new advice already may have arisen. BOF legal adviser Lance Nelson recommends limiting the participation of board member Mel Morris in the 2005 meeting.

This is based on the fact that Morris is in the salmon processing business in Cook Inlet. Apparently, Morris is viewed by some as too "commercial" to participate. One wonders if Mr. Nelson thought of this all by himself?

Is bias only OK if it is guided bias, as Ed Dersham has so often exhibited in past conflict of interest participation? Meanwhile, Penney pal and ex-board member attorney Dan Coffey will represent KRSA at the meetings.

Brent Johnson, Clam Gulch

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