A meeting of the Kenai Subsistence Subcommittee showed how divisive subsistence issues in the central Kenai Peninsula have become as board members were unable to reach consensus on peninsula fishery proposals.
The Southcentral Alaska Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council Kenai Subsistence Subcommittee met at the Kenai River Center on Friday and Saturday to consider 12 peninsula fishery proposals and public comments on those proposals in order to formulate recommendations to the Southcentral RAC prior to the group’s March 13-16 meeting
Recommendations were to focus on the methods, means, seasons and harvest limits for existing federal subsistence fishery proposals for the federal public waters on the Kenai, Kasilof and Swanson River drainages based on current customary and traditional use determinations established by the Federal Subsistence Board.
No recommendations came to be, though. Instead representatives spent the majority of their two-day meeting going off on tangents, expounding on personal philosophies and generally jumping from topic to topic, based on the primary interests of the groups they represented, which included Salamatof Tribe, Ninilchik Tribe, Kenaitze Tribe, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Kenai River Professional Guides Association, United Cook Inlet Drift Association, Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association and the communities of Cooper Landing, Hope and Ninilchik
By far the most contentious issue of the two-day meeting was the potential use of gillnets for subsistence fishing in the Kasilof and Kenai Rivers.
“That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the corner,” said facilitator Dick La Fever.
A proposal requesting the use of gillnets for subsistence fishing was brought forward by a representative of the Ninilchik Tribal Council.
“We want to establish some form of community net,” Ivan Encelewski said.
Doug McBride, a staff fisheries biologist with the Office of Subsistence Management, said OSM viewed the concept of a community gillnet as problematic, and stated so in its draft analysis of the proposals, because “none of the communities with customary and traditional use determinations are represented by a single organization or entity that could administer such a fishery for the entire community.”
In other words, the Ninilchik Tribal Council is not representative of all who live in Ninilchik, so the opportunity to use a gillnet could not be solely allowed for them. According to McBride, it would also have to be allowed for all eligible rural residents in Ninilchik, as well as residents in Hope and Cooper Landing, and “the addition of widespread in-river gillnet opportunities would be inconsistent with existing principles of fish conservation for species and stocks.”
Encelewski said the idea of a community net isn’t something he was ready to give up on quickly, though.
“We don’t want lots of nets in the rivers, but I don’t see how one community net is ‘widespread,’ especially since Hope and Cooper Landing have expressed no interest in them. I also think there could be a single entity in Ninilchik that could administer a gillnet. We’re open to all options, but setnetting was our traditional and customary use method. It’s our our preferred method for getting fish and what we think will be the best way for getting fish,” he said.
Not wanting a proliferation of nets in the river was, for the most part, the only issue that received consensus among all representatives of the subcommittee, and many said while it was a small step, it was at least a step in the right direction.
“I had hoped this meeting would be a place where people would come and express their own opinions and options and do some creative thinking about how to proceed without the overlay from the (OSM’s draft analysis) on where we could and couldn’t go. I thought the purpose of this group was to make a recommendation, rather than critique a recommendation that has already been made,” said Sky Starkey, who represented the Ninilchik Tribal Council on the second day of the meeting.
“I think it wasn’t a complete failure, though,” Starkey added. “I think this was a beginning a beginning dialogue toward people understanding Ninilchik is trying to be reasonable and is concerned about conservation, but also needs a subsistence fishery that is meaningful.”
Ricky Gease, representative for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said he believed some good also came out of the meeting.
“When you’re in a group that is trying to work by consensus, you’re trying to get to understand differences and see if at the end of the day you can move forward by a process of analysis. So, what we’re doing now is in the next week we’ll go forward with the staff analysis and providing comments and feedback on why this was here and why that was there. Then we’ll come back in two weeks and continue on with the discussion, which will be helpful to hashing everything out before the Southcentral RAC meeting, because there’s not time for the give and take there,” he said.
The Southcentral Alaska Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council Kenai Subsistence Subcommittee agreed to meet again Feb. 24.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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