With 286 proposals on the docket for the Board of Fisheries (BOF) Upper Cook Inlet meeting, user group representatives expect hundreds from all facets of fishing to descend upon Anchorage beginning Feb. 1.
"A good couple-hundred people or better will testify," said Jim Marcotte, executive director for the Board of Fisheries. "By the end of public testimony (the BOF) will have heard all sides of most issues."
Board members will take testimony from representatives of the area's advisory committees and members of the public at its Anchorage meeting from Feb. 1 to Feb. 12 before beginning their deliberations. But for those who can't devote their time to a 12 day-long meeting or who can't make it to Anchorage, the BOF will send three of its members to afford the public an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns at a public testimony at 3 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Soldotna Sports Center. Another hearing at the same time in Wasilla will offer Matanuska-Susitna residents the opportunity to speak as well. If members of the public can't make the hearing or the meetings, they can also submit written testimony.
Some 227 of the 286 proposals concern guided fishing, sport fishing, subsistence fishing and commercial fishing here on the Kenai Peninsula, particularly the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. With so many proposals and possibly hundreds of people clamoring to be heard, many user groups on the peninsula feel a few hours two days before the meetings are set to begin aren't enough for everyone to speak. Gary Dawkins, chairman of the Soldotna-Kenai Fish and Game advisory committee, said the more than 100 people who authored many of the proposals the BOF will consider will want to speak, but the short timeframe may not allow their opposition to speak.
"There's not enough time for all parties concerned to be heard," Dawkins said. Even though he said he will attend the public hearing, Dawkins called it a "Band-Aid on a major wound."
"It's not going to give complete representation of the concerns of the peninsula people," he said.
Dwight Kramer, acting secretary for the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition, said when the Board of Fisheries sent representatives to the Kenai Peninsula last year the public hearing was two days; this year the hearing is only one night.
"I think it's just kind of a show of faith because so many people asked them to have the board meeting here," he said. "Eighty percent of the people (at) Anchorage are from Kenai and Soldotna. Almost everybody represents a group or organization of some sort."
With 14 proposals up for consideration at the BOF meeting, representatives with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association will definitely be at the Anchorage meeting. Ricky Gease, the association's executive director, said one of the association's main concerns is the low sockeye salmon escapements for the northern end of the Upper Cook Inlet area, particularly the Yentna River.
Because of the association's concerns with the escapements in the northern district of Cook Inlet, Gease said Anchorage is a good central location. He said if you're a commercial fisherman it would make sense that you would want the BOF meeting on the Kenai Peninsula because 90 percent of all the commercial fishing effort is located in the central part of Cook Inlet.
"A large population of personal-use and sportfishing users come from the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Mat-Su," he said. "A lot of people who participate in the PU fishery come from Anchorage and the Mat-Su. Anchorage is centrally located."
Marcotte said the board makes decisions on where to hold meetings. The board received a request from the Kenai-Soldotna advisory committee to hold meetings on the peninsula, but Marcotte said folks in the Mat-Su area wanted meetings closer to them as well.
"They looked at Anchorage as a compromise area," he said. "It was central to both participants north and south of Anchorage."
Marcotte said the BOF's Anchorage meeting is open to the public. The board will be split up into separate committees and each committee will deliberate on the proposals with the help of a public panel, but even those who aren't on the panel can sit through the process. Marcotte also said even though the deadline for written public testimony has passed, the board will still accept comments but is asking that they be kept to a maximum of 10 pages. The agenda for the Upper Cook Inlet meeting is posted at http://www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/fishinfo/meetinfo/fcal.php.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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