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Personal use fishery proposal spawned out: City of Kenai puts decision on ice

Posted: Sunday, March 07, 2010

Politics is nothing but threats and favors, said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch, quoting a saying by one-time Alaska politician Stephen McAlpine.

And the threat of Alaska state House bill 266 prioritizing personal use fisheries above all others has spurred the Kenai City Council to action -- but not enough action to risk alienating possible benefactors.

The bill, mainly sponsored by Mat-Su Valley representatives, could change the management of fisheries in the state. According to the bill, it would provide "for a priority for a fishery that is restricted to residents when fishing restrictions are implemented to achieve an escapement goal."

The bill would allow the Alaska Board of Fisheries to place restrictions on all other fisheries before restricting the personal use fishery when the harvest is limited to achieve the goal.

Kenai City Council drafted a resolution opposing the bill after hearing from constituents at its Feb.17 meeting, but postponed its passage at the March 3 meeting because the bill is likely dead, at least for this session.

"It doesn't appear that the bill is going to move anywhere this session," Koch said. "Unless the bill is going to move somewhere the city won't take a position."

Koch said the inaction of the council is to preserve certain relationships with lawmakers who could otherwise delay helpful legislation for the city.

Jim Butler of Kenai, a commercial fisherman and attorney, was one of the constituents who urged the council to review the personal use fishery bill and consider action.

"I think it's important for the city to monitor what's happening. The fishing industry is important to the city of Kenai, it has been for generations," Butler said.

Calling the bill "bad policy," He said that the Valley policy makers who are sponsors of the bill are putting their constituents benefits in the personal use fishery above scientific data.

"It's certainly their prerogative," he said. "It just doesn't pay attention to sound biology."

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, this year's sockeye salmon run in the Kenai River is estimated to be 45 percent below the 20-year average, with an estimated 1.7 million return compared to the 3.1 million averages.

"To me its unfortunate we're talking about how to manage in a time of scarcity instead of focusing on why the fish are scarce when they used to be abundant," he said.

David Brindle of Pacific Star Seafoods told the council at the Feb. 17 meeting that a reallocation of the fishery could have a significant economic impact on the fishermen and processors of the area.

The city's dormant resolution opposing the bill includes a clause to address these concerns.

"Whereas, establishing a subsistence-like priority for personal use fisheries will cause grave economic harm to residents and businesses in the City of Kenai and State of Alaska," it states.

Koch said that if the house bill looks like it will come back to life in the six remaining weeks of the session, the resolution in opposition will be resuscitated, as well.

In other action the council:

* Postponed a resolution amending policies and procedures for the council's agenda and packet and for taking public comment.

* Passed a resolution entering into an agreement for a non-smoking bar at the Kenai Municipal Airport.

* Passed a resolution in support of Alaska state Senate bill 220 that would establish a state energy policy relating to energy efficiency and alternative energy.

* Passed a protest to the Alaskalanes Bowling Center liquor license renewal because the business is behind on property tax payments.

* Approved a lease extension with Chevron North America Exploration and Production Company for the Alaska Fire Training Center.

* Approved a $10,000 donation to the Russian Orthodox Church for its preservation.

* Proposed a $2,500 minimum donation to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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