Board process not always pretty, but it is public

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011

Time to make sure those flotation devices are within easy reach.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries begins its triennial discussion of Upper Cook Inlet finfish today, and if there's one thing that's true about salmon allocation, it's that debating the issues affecting the fishery rarely make for smooth sailing.

That said, we wouldn't want it any other way.

The fish board process can at times resemble a cannery slime line in July. Of the hundreds of proposals to the board, any number of them are just more waste to get rid of, along with the fish guts. Indeed, some proposals appear to have been submitted out of spite or arrogance, instead of sound biological reasoning.

But there also will be some good ideas in the mix, and our hope is that over the course of two full weeks of public testimony, committee discussion and board deliberation -- which comes after local advisory committees picked apart proposals over the past several months -- the best ideas will become regulation, and the rest sent to the recycle bin.

It is by no means a perfect process. Fishermen -- commercial, sport, personal-use -- are dug in deep on issues affecting their user groups, and they are passionate about their issues. There are dramatic differences of opinion even within each user group. Debate is bound to be contentious. The seemingly smallest of changes to regulations can have a major impact on the livelihoods of people who rely on fishing for income, recreation or sustenance.

But while it may not be a perfect process, it is a public process, and therein lies its value. The people who are most affected by fishing regulations are the ones who propose, comment on and help implement those regulations. Citizens here have direct influence over management of the resources they use.

"I believe in the process. Not that many places you have that much input," commercial fisherman Dyer VanDevere told the Clarion.

Everywhere else I've lived other people make decision about fishing and hunting," said sport fisherman Mike Crawford, but "anybody can go to Board of Fish and give them their thoughts."

At the end of the process, there will be some groups that feel they made gains, which will have come at the expense of other groups. Not everyone will be happy with the way the process turns out. Some will wish some of those proposals had been thrown back, and others will lament the ones the board let get away.

Our wish is that all parties keep one thing in mind: the goal of this process is to ensure that we will always have enough fish in the sea to fight over.

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