Michael Carpenter addresses west-side Cook Inlet setnet fishing regulations during public testimony to the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Wednesday afternoon at the Soldotna Sports Center. A diverse mix of people representing a wide range of fishing interests offered opinions on proposals before the board.
Photos by M. Scott Moon
"We should set in-river goals and give managers the authority to reach those goals."
"The (commercial fishing) windows put in place recently have impacted the livelihood of my family."
"There has been pollution of the habitat due to mismanagement by the board. It's become more about politics than the fish."
"If we are not able to fish in that area, we would not be able to stop fish from coming up the river. The river can only support so many fish."
Members of the Board of Fisheries listened to a wide range of concerns from a varied group of speakers at Wednesday's public testimony hearing in Soldotna.
Residents voiced concerns with overescapement and fisheries management, and criticized the board for an apparent lack of interest in the public's voice.
Before the hearing began, there were grumblings that the board should have held a public hearing in Soldotna lasting more than the four hours allocated. Some said that the board meeting, which begins Friday in Anchorage, should be held in the Kenai area since a large number of proposals concern Cook Inlet and the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers.
Only three of the seven board members were present at the local hearing, concerning at least one speaker.
"This is not a testimony," said Steve Vanek. "I object to testifying before only two to three board members."
Vanek also speculated as to whether the rest of the board would be alerted to his concerns, or if public testimony has simply become a formality.
Despite these concerns, most speakers were thankful to the board for coming to Soldotna to accommodate those who would not be able to travel to Anchorage next week.
Recurring issues brought to the board were the overescapement of fish into the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers and the way that these waters have been managed.
According to Gary Hollier, gross overescapement leads to harvestable fish being wasted. More fish being caught boosts the economy, he said.
Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey addressed the importance of the Kenai River and its fisheries to his city's economy.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Speakers called for the board to pass proposals that give local managers and biologists more leeway to manage fisheries. Ruth Johnson, who has been setnetting in the area since 1962, asked the board to set goals and "give managers the flexibility to succeed within the goals."
Proposal 198 is one of many dealing with this issue, asking that the department "manage the Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon stocks primarily for commerical uses based on abundance." The proposal maintains that "remaining status quo will only continue to waste the harvestable surplus and produce small returns and poorer quality product."
Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, brought up the issue of the Kenai River's health, focusing on hydrocarbon levels in the water. He noted that the river has exceeded state standards for water quality the last seven years, which can be attributed to gasoline-derived fuels. Ruffner said that outboard motors are the major contributors and that two-stroke motors use at least 10 times more fuel than a four-stroke motor. He recommended that the board look into ways to decrease pollution of the river and ensure that resources remain healthy.
Another resident noted that despite high levels of hydrocarbons, the board has no habitat report for the Kenai River for 2008.
Another focus of the hearing was proposal 320, which would prohibit guides from fishing on the Kasilof River on Mondays between Jan. 1 and July 31. Since the Kenai River is closed to guides on Mondays, the Kasilof becomes overcrowded and potentially unsafe for smaller boats.
Other proposals addressed included 74 and 75, which place restrictions on spotter planes; 103, which allows for the use of monofilament gillnets beyond current specifications; 230, which would restrict the use of motorized vessels on portions of the Kasilof River; and 227, which would amend current catch and release rules.
The Board of Fisheries will be taking additional testimony at it's Anchorage meeting. Public testimony is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the board begins committe work Monday. Board deliberations are slated to begin Feb. 9.
Hannahlee Allers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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