Board wants study into lower fish numbers

Committee also endorses bills that fight mixing zone pollution

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Recently elected members peppered the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Kenai-Soldotna Advisory Committee meeting with new faces Wednesday, and some suggested the committee use advertisements or editorials to reintroduce the committee to the public and eliminate any doubts about its commitment to represent the public’s interest.

“That’s our job, to promote the proposals that the people want,” said Gary Dawkins, the committee’s chair.

Most of the new members were elected at the committee’s last meeting, but one final seat remained open until Wednesday.

Tim O’Brien of Nikiski was elected to fill the committee’s subsistence seat, which completed the committee’s membership.

“I want to regain our beaches for safe family fun and fishing and gathering winter needs as we were guaranteed at statehood,” he said. “The reason we became a state was to regain control of our resources.”

O’Brien said he was upset by subsistence regulations that allow people from the Lower 48 to move to Alaska and quickly receive rural subsistence rights if they move to a designated rural community, while someone in the community next door might not receive those rights even if they have lived in Alaska their entire lives.

“It’s not a zip code fishery,” he said.

The committee also voted in favor of submitting two letters of recommendation.

The committee will send one letter to the governor and legislators in favor of a study that will evaluate sockeye salmon production in the Sustina River system.

“This project is a proactive, progressive approach, “ said committee member Paul Shadura.

Recent sockeye salmon returns from the system have fallen short of expectations and the study, proposed at Wednesday’s meeting by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Executive Director Gary Fandrei, would help analyze the freshwater rearing environment.

Although the Sustina River system does not empty into Cook Inlet from the peninsula, commercial fishermen from the peninsula still rely on the river system’s fish and are keenly concerned with its ongoing production levels, said committee member David Atcheson.

“It needs to be studied, definitely,” he said. “It affects people here a lot.”

The committee will write a second letter in support of two bills proposed to block mixing-zone regulation changes that could remove pollution protections for spawning streams.

The committee already has written a letter to Gov. Frank Murkowski opposing the regulation changes, but members felt the committee needs to continue to push its message.

“We can’t trust our regulators in this particular situation,” Shadura said. “I think it’s good to keep the message strong and that’s why I support this 100 percent,” he said in reference to the letter in support of the two bills.

The committee, however, was less resolved in its consideration of a proposal that would prohibit halibut charter boat fishermen from fishing with their clients.

The committee decided to continue a discussion on whether it would support the proposal at its next meeting, and committee member Joe Connors said the proposal should be considered carefully.

“Once you take something away, you’ll never get it back,” he said.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday and will be held at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Center in Kenai.

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