There's a lot to be said about the Kenai River. While most of it is positive, when it's time for the Alaska Board of Fisheries to hold its Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meetings, Kenai Peninsula residents have plenty to argue about.
About 100 people showed up at the Soldotna Sports Center on Wednesday to vocalize their thoughts about numerous proposals pertaining to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and upper Cook Inlet.
Each day the meetings, which start today in Anchorage and end Feb. 12, are dominated by issues peninsula residents are interested in: commercial fishing, personal-use fishing, salmon management, sport fisheries and fishing vessel restrictions.
Proposals include No. 198, asking that the department "manage the Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon stocks primarily for commercial 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."
Another proposal is 320, which would prohibit guides from fishing on the Kasilof River on Mondays between Jan. 1 and July 31. The proposal notes that the Kenai River is closed to guides on Mondays and looks to address safety on the Kasilof.
Other proposals include 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.
Although it's acknowledged Board of Fisheries members were available to listen to public testimony on our home turf Wednesday, valid points were made that have us asking a question that came up several times: If the majority of the issues pertain to the Kenai Peninsula, why are we holding the meetings in Anchorage?
Having three board members here is nice, but it means four of them aren't getting the feedback from those impacted the most. Add to that the meetings are ongoing for 12 days, and you're sure to keep the folks most affected by the decisions from getting the chance to speak or listen to discussion of those issues.
It also rubs us the wrong way that comments made Wednesday were limited to four hours. At least the time frame 3 to 7 p.m. made it a little more available, but input should end when there's nothing left to say.
As the paper that covers the prestigious Kenai River, we know it's not an easy story to tell. Everyone is unhappy about something or someone. Some want faster boats, some say no motors at all, some want less restrictions, while others want more. However, there are two items that seem to reappear on a consistent basis: Everyone wants more fish, and many say the local managers and biologists need to be given more leeway to manage our fisheries.
We like to think those in charge know best, or at least have the common sense to do what's in the best interest of all user groups. It is a challenging task, we know, but it must be a shared goal, nonetheless.
If you weren't able to make it Wednesday, you still have a chance to speak your mind today through Sunday at the Coast International Inn in Anchorage. The deadline to sign up to speak is 11 a.m. Saturday. If you don't sign up, you'll have to hold your tongue for another two years.
That gives the Board of Fisheries plenty of time to look at how things went this time around. Hopefully, they'll learn from it.
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