Jeanne Maltby, a bed and breakfast owner from Kasilof, addresses members of the Alaska Board of Fisheries during a public hearing at the Soldotna Sports Center Saturday morning. Three members of the board listened as residents discussed their concerns about issues that will be addressed at the board's meetings in Anchorage this week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Alaska Board of Fisheries public hearing held this past Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center provided area residents the opportunity to speak out about the often controversial topic of managing the fishery resources of the state.
The purpose of the hearing was to gather information and public comments concerning proposals and issues to be addressed by the board during the upper Cook Inlet finfish regulatory meeting which is Monday through Jan. 29 in Anchorage.
The hearing was open to the public and those interested could submit written testimony or provide up to three minutes of oral testimony, both of which will be consolidated into a report to be presented to the full board this week.
Board Vice Chair Ed Dersham of Anchor Point, as well as board members Rupe Andrews of Juneau and Robert Heyano of Dillingham were present to receive the public testimony.
"We're here because we don't want to miss input from people who may not be able to attend the Anchorage meeting," Andrews said at the opening of the hearing Friday.
Roughly 50 to 60 people attended the hearing each day, of which 20 to 25 gave testimony. Several user groups were represented including commercial fishers, sport fishers, guides, business owners, property owners and self-titled "Joe Fishermen."
"I think it's going well," said Steve Tvenstrup, president of United Cook Inlet Drifters Association, after he attended Friday's hearing.
"It's been beneficial. The different user groups are getting together and seeing a preview of what's going to go on up in Anchorage, and user groups that are adversaries and that fought in the past are working together, and I'm hoping will continue to work together for the next three years," Tvenstrup said.
Tvenstrup's main complaint related to the hearing, other than that the upcoming board meeting should have been held in the Kenai-Soldotna area, was that the Department of Fish and Game was not timely in releasing relevant reports some of which came out less than 48 hours before the hearing.
"The department has to share its information. Reports should have been given out well ahead of time, back in November or December, so user groups could read them and make suggestions," he said.
Tvenstrup also said it was odd that no area Fish and Game biologists or personnel were in attendance during the hearing.
"Hopefully, they will be up in Anchorage so we can get all the information out on the table," he said.
Retired Soldotna Fish and Game biologist Ken Tarbox also commented on the department's policies as of late.
"There's been a definite trend in recent years of not putting information out," he said.
As to the reason for this, Tarbox said one possibility is that user groups are becoming more sophisticated at reviewing the data and then commenting sometimes critically on data Fish and Game puts out.
As another possibility, Tarbox stated, "Also, Fish and Game is a political organization and politics are involved on what and when information is released."
Despite his critique, Tarbox said he thought the board's decision to hold a hearing was a good one.
Board members Rupe Andrews, Ed Dersham and Robert Heyano will share comments taken this weekend with the rest of the board later this week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"It's good because it provided more input for them to think about and reflect upon before the meeting in Anchorage," he said.
Paul Shadura, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, expressed similar concerns.
"It's a disappointment that local Fish and Game were not here. It would have been good to have interaction between them, the local users and the board," he said.
Shadura also stated that although he appreciated the Board of Fisheries calling the hearing, he was disappointed the full board was not in attendance and that individual comments weren't recorded in their entirety.
"A condensed report will be given to the full board, but that's not as effective as hearing firsthand the concerns and compassion of the Alaskans that testified," he said.
Kathy Jackinsky, a drift fisher from Soldotna, said she had apprehension about the effectiveness of the hearing.
"If the board really listens and it has an impact, I think this hearing was beneficial, but until it's all over, you just don't know if it will have an impact or have been an exercise in futility," she said.
Jim Golden, a board member for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said he thought the people testifying represented a broad cross section of the community, but he expected to see more people attend.
"There's been testimony from nearly all user groups and the presentations have been fairly eloquent. People testifying are concerned and trying to make it better, but I thought there would be more participation," he said.
Board vice chair Dersham said he also was surprised by how few people attended the hearing.
"I expected a larger turnout, but I think it was still successful in that many that testified and shared their concerns may not be able to make it to Anchorage," he said.
Dersham added that the information he heard was a blend of old and new items.
"A lot of the core issues are carried over every three years, but there have also been some unique twists and new proposals that we've seen here," he said.
"We'll give oral and written reports to the full board. I think we'll be able to frame some of the specific issues, especially issues that we've received testimony both for and against," Dersham added.
It's not new that the different user groups often have had conflicting interests and agendas, so much so that meetings have at times been described as "fish wars." However, there was little of the fierce animosity and violence between groups that was predicted, and even cited, as one of the reasons the upcoming board meeting will be held in Anchorage.
"I didn't foresee any problems, since any problem causers could drive to Anchorage just as easily," Tvenstrup said.
Board member Rupe Andrews also commented on the Anchorage location for the upcoming meeting and dispelled any notions of safety or security issues, after hearing testimony from Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey about how "awesome" Soldotna is.
"It wasn't anything against the people here or the community, ... but we took a bad rap for it," he said.
"I think we both took a bad rap," added Carey.
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