Letters to the Editor

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

All residents encouraged to take part in advisory committee process

Mr. Les Palmer:

As a commercial fisherman, I have purposely avoided responding to your relentless attacks on the commercial fishing industry because you are obviously an advocate for the sport fishing industry. I believe any remarks by me in response to your column would be inappropriate and not constructive. Like all user groups, the sport fishery needs its advocates.

But your column titled, "Advisory committee gives biased advice," takes a shot at the heart of the public process for regulating fisheries. You purposely or inadvertently have advised the public not to bother participating in the public process solely because commercial fishermen are allowed to attend and advocate for their groups.

Local advisory committees are supposed to reflect the demographic and primary uses of the resource for their respective areas of the state. With proper representation and participation these committees supply the Boards of Fish and Game with decades of experience and knowledge on the resources from a local perspective. This system of regulation, as you say, is "part of our extremely open, public system of making rules. ..." How can not participating ensure that all interests are represented?

Has it occurred to you that there are so many commercial fishermen on the committee simply because there are many, many commercial fishermen who are here, locally? Perhaps the public doesn't fill up the room simply because they don't have a problem with the management of the resource, or they don't believe they are being denied opportunity to harvest the resource.

I'm convinced that the guides don't participate because most of them are not here at this time of year, and secondly, they don't want to discuss fishing issues with commercial fishermen in a public forum, even though in the past they did.

I am a commercial fisherman and an officer of United Cook Inlet Drift Association and a member "at large" of the Soldotna-Kenai Advisory Committee. I make no secret of why I serve or who I am. Service on the committee has been a real "eye opener" for me. Admittedly, being so long in commercial fishing what goes on up river has not meant much to me. Quite frankly, for years I expected that the sport and guided industries would take care of the conservation of the river.

But times change.

Since you haven't attended these meetings regularly, you wouldn't necessarily know that 90 percent of the proposals we discuss are about conservation and protection of the resource and its habitat. Do you suppose that commercial fishermen would not be concerned about those issues? Are you saying that what we advocate on conservation issues is biased?

If the Board of Fisheries chooses to ignore our committee's advice, so be it. I believe in Alaska's regulatory process enough to participate, in spite of what the Board of Fisheries believes or doesn't believe.

I encourage all residents of our area to attend and participate and if possible serve on the committee. The fact that there are commercial fishermen attending should not intimidate anyone. We play by the rules and no one's opinion is suppressed. If you make your case strong enough and for the right reasons, chances are it will carry and receive the committee's support.

Bob Merchant


United Cook Inlet Drift Association

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