Being there no easy feat

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2011

After two weeks holed up in Anchorage hotels to attend the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting at the Egan Center, some central Kenai Peninsula fishermen were restless.

"I used to live in Kasilof up until 10 days ago," said Robert Williams, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association said Wednesday.

Gary Hollier, vice-president of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, said it's a significant cost for him to attend the meeting and it limits the access for other Peninsula people wishing to attend.

"It's a $2,500 to $3,000 dollar bill to come up to Anchorage," said the Kenai resident.

Eighty-five percent of the proposals on Upper Cook Inlet Finfish concern the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

"Obviously there's some Northern District issues here that impact the Valley but the bulk of these issues are Kenai/Kasilof," Hollier said. "It'd be prudent to think that the board and the state of Alaska would have the fisheries board meet in the area where most of the proposals are addressing the issues."

According to a Department of Fish and Game flyer explaining the Board of Fisheries process, "meetings are generally held in the region whose proposals are being considered."

Jim Marcotte, executive director of the board, said the board set the meeting dates and location of the 2011 Upper Cook Inlet Meeting in October of 2009.

"The board chose the location of Anchorage because it's the most central of all shareholders," he said.

The last fisheries board meeting in Soldotna was held in February of 1999, he said. All of the following meetings were held in Anchorage. Part of the 1999 meeting was also held in Wasilla to address Northern District issues.

But it's hard to break up the meeting like that because of the mixed stock fisheries in Cook Inlet, he said.

"Management plans are interconnected," Marcotte said.

But another big reason for having the meeting is Anchorage is the available facilities.

"The real thing is you need a fairly large room and some efficiency for central travel and cost for the department," he said.

Mike Crawford, a Soldotna sport fisherman and president of the Kenai-Soldotna Advisory Committee to the fisheries board, said although he understands the reasons for having the meeting in Anchorage, he'd rather be at home.

"I'd rather it be in Soldotna so I don't have to come up here and live for 14 days in a hotel room," he said. "I think it'd be a good idea to have it in Soldotna -- there's no reason not to."

Some fishermen say there was a reason that the Upper Cook Inlet meetings were moved off the Peninsula. Tempers supposedly flared at the 1999 meeting in Soldotna and that spun the meeting into a security threat.

"I think that it was really unfortunate and unfair the way it was characterized as being a hostile environment in Kenai," said Ted Crookston, a member of Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, about the 1999 meeting. "It should be held on the Kenai Peninsula certainly at least every other cycle."

Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said it's not as important to him where the Upper Cook Inlet finfish meetings are held.

"For me it's more important for board members to actually have a hands-on understanding when the fisheries are being prosecuted in the summertime," he said.

"Any meeting that lasts two weeks is expensive I don't care where it is," Gease added. "It's a major investment in time and resources for everybody involved."

Marcotte, the fisheries board executive director, said the board would decide the time and location of the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting at a worksession next fall.

And at that time the fisheries board could decide to have the next meeting anywhere, he said.

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