Each year fewer permit holders bother to put their nets in the water. Some blame low prices for salmon, high fuel costs of the thousands of tons of farmed salmon being dumped onto the American markets each year. Commercially, this is a statewide phenomenon that grows economically worse for commercial fishing families each year. Together with sport, subsistence and personal-use fisheries it is a never-ending recurring nightmare.
But of all the areas, commercially fished in the state, Cook Inlet has the best odds for survival in that it is a fishery clearly targeted by the national sportfish lobby for a complete takeover for the benefit of sportfishing families.
Politically connected, with millions of dollars, they continue to lobby U.S. and Alaska legislators for a larger share of the Pacific salmon and believe commercial fishing will eventually wipe out the Pacific salmon as we know it today, and they have a duty to protect and preserve the resource for future generations no matter the cost.
This is a very real coming event for Cook Inlet fishing families who do hold an edge over the state's other fishing districts by the fact that it is the most accessible in Alaska. "All roads lead to the Kenai."
They are here now, spending millions, they want the fish and are able, politically and financially, to fight for or negotiate any deal that will bring them closer to their collective agenda, the absolute and unfettered control of the inlets salmon.
Local fishing families have little time within which to answer an age-old problem, with no buy-back programs from the state, competition from all quarters and so financially strapped any attempt to fight a well-heeled lobby would be pure folly, they must now come to the table and attempt to negotiate the sale of 50 percent of the existing permits to the only group with the purpose and money to buy them.
Hard? Yes, but both sides can win. First, 50 percent of the fleet stops fishing, sport, subsistence and personal harvests go up dramatically and folks on the beach are happy. Second, half the fleet retains a viable fishery, permit values go up and a way of life continues. Hundreds of millions of dollars in salmon have been taken from the inlet's fishery in the past century. So as drastic as the move seems, it is time to make the tough call, save the salmon and insure constitutional mandates of equal access to a common resource are kept.
Having fished commercially for nearly 50 years in Alaska, I can safely state that anything short of the compromise stated herein will bring nothing less than all-out political war. If sitting at the table now can bring about an agreement acceptable to both parties, the real winners will be the salmon.
John A. Anderson
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