Saying the Alaska Board of Fisheries process has been hijacked by special interest groups, three members of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee have resigned from the committee in protest.
"The Board of Fisheries process is all about big business, and the (advisory committees) have no part in the process," committee chair Dwight Kramer said during Wednesday's committee meeting.
Kramer and fellow committee member Ken Tarbox announced their resignations Wednesday evening. They joined John Nelson, who submitted his resignation last week, in leaving the board, which is tasked with providing local input to the state boards of fish and game on wildlife management issues.
Kramer and Nelson identify themselves primarily as private sport anglers.
Tarbox is a retired commercial fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Tarbox cited similar reasons to Kramer and blasted the department's actions during the board process.
He said that department's regional and statewide staff lacks professionalism in how it handles fish issues and said the department has essentially become a user group unto itself.
"I can't go forward and give legitimacy to (the process) until I see fundamental changes in professionalism of the way ADFG operates and the way the Board of Fish operates," Tarbox said.
Following the meeting, Tarbox stressed he is not upset with local biologists, but rather regional Fish and Game staff. He also said he's still committed to working with fisheries issues in the area but does not feel the committee process is the right place to do so at this time.
"I still have a passion for this community and this resource, but I just can't participate anymore," he said.
In his resignation letter, Nelson said he's also upset with the political nature of the process.
"ADFG management of the area's fishery resources, including Board of Fisheries, is thoroughly politicized, totally dominated by the economic and political resources of special interest, thereby rendering the Kenai-Soldotna AC's participation in the so-called public process meaningless, an exercise in futility, and a waste of time," read Nelson's resignation letter, submitted Feb. 2.
Kramer told the committee that during the recent BOF meeting in Anchorage, decisions were made not during public deliberations, but in private negotiations between representatives of groups like the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Kenai River Professional Guide Association and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. That left some users he mentioned private Kenai River anglers and Northern District setnetters in particular out of the decision-making process.
"The Board of Fish didn't pay any attention to our input," he said.
In addition to the board's lack of interest in the AC's input, Kramer said he's also frustrated by what he perceives are attempts by the Kenai guide industry to take over the entire process. He pointed to a recent guides' association newsletter that boasts seven of the committee's 15 members are now guide-friendly.
He said that because guides are trying to take over the process, the committee is essentially becoming as obsolete as when it was perceived to be loaded with commercial fishers.
"It will become just as ineffective as when it was controlled by the commercial fishing industry," he said.
On Thursday, Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease praised the three members for their service on the committee.
"We appreciate their service to the AC over the years and their dedication to the community's interests," he said.
Gease also pointed to a press release KRSA issued following the Board of Fish meeting that defended the board process.
"We were part of a productive process that included commercial and noncommercial users in addition to department staff, and although never perfect, it is the best process available," read the Jan. 27 statement.
Following Kramer's resignation, vice chair Gary Dawkins assumed the role of acting chair. He said he understands the frustrations voiced by the three resigning members and agrees that special interests have gained too much favor at the Board of Fish level.
"It's become total greed and political nonsense," Dawkins said.
Dawkins said he agrees that the board no longer listens to local concerns when making decisions regarding upper Cook Inlet fisheries.
"The public is not being represented when the AC is not represented."
Dawkins said the committee has alternate members who can step into two of the vacancies.
He said he'll seek direction from Board of Fisheries support staff as to how to proceed with filling the chair's position or selecting new members.
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