Fish board wants residents to be heard

Fish and Game special meeting will allow board members to listen to comments

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

Anyone wishing to have their opinion on early-run Kenai king salmon heard by the Alaska Board of Fisheries will get an unusual opportunity next Sunday during a special meeting of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Board chair Ed Dersham will attend the meeting in person, while other members of the board will listen in via teleconference. According to advisory committee chair Bob Merchant, the special meeting has been called in response to concerns that local residents won't be able to voice their opinions on the issue at the upcoming board meeting, scheduled to begin March 17 in Anchorage.

"Now is the time for those (local) people to get what's on their chests off their chests," Merchant said Friday.

Officially, the meeting is simply a special advisory committee meeting. Board of Fish members will not participate in the discussion, they simply will listen to local opinion. Merchant said the meeting was Dersham's idea, saying the board chair is interested in making sure locals have a chance to speak directly to board members. He said that although it won't be the same as holding a regular board meeting on the peninsula, he feels it's a positive step.

"This is the next best thing," Merchant said.

Dersham, who lives in Anchor Point, said he plans to stop by the meeting on his way to Anchorage. He believes the issues of how best to manage early-run Kenai kings is one which must be resolved, and that can only be done if locals have their say.

"There's been concerns expressed by people on the Kenai that they wouldn't be able to attend the board meeting in Anchorage. I suggested that the advisory committee have a meeting and have people come that couldn't be in Anchorage," Dersham said. "I want to be able to hear from as many people as possible."

Dersham explained that the state simply does not have the funds to hold a special meeting dealing with just Kenai kings on the peninsula. As it stands, the issue is just one of many the board will take up at its regular meeting, which also will deal with statewide dungeoness crab, shrimp, miscellaneous shellfish (except Southeast and Yakutat) and supplemental issues.

"We don't have the budget to hold the meeting on the Kenai Peninsula," he said.

Dersham explained that it's not unprecedented for board members to attend advisory committee meetings, and next week's meeting is nothing more than board members taking an opportunity to listen to local people.

"It's not an official function of the board," he said. "We frequently go to (advisory committee) meetings on our own. This is really no different."

Although he said he didn't know as of Friday how many of the board members plan to participate via teleconference, Dersham said he expects most -- if not all -- of the seven-member board to listen in.

The advisory committee meeting will be March 16 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Kenai Legislative Information Office in the old Kenai courthouse at 145 Main Street Loop. Merchant said anyone may make public comments to the advisory committee, although the length of individual testimony will likely be limited in order to accommodate all speakers.



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