'Classic' money should be returned to river, not spent on Board of Fish

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2004

Whether Kenai River Sportfishing Associ-ation's use of its revenues are legal (Clarion, March 7) is a matter for the state's appropriate agencies and courts to decide. Whether KRSA's use of its revenues to influence fishing regulations is ethical is another matter, requiring the court of public opinion.

That KRSA represents the area's commercial sportfishing industry's interests is obvious and was made even more plain when more than 150 area "Joe Fishermen" took out a full-page ad in the Clarion disavowing any representation of their interests by KRSA. That KRSA does not always advocate responsible sportfishing was made plain at the 2002 Board of Fisheries when KRSA advocated making the first run of Kenai kings a catch-and-release fishery.

Then, too, how much of KRSA's funding of habitat conservation and restoration are repair jobs, repairing damage caused by sportfishing activity? And how many of KRSA's access projects are self-serving, serving merely to clog the river with yet more sportfishing activity?

That KRSA exists to further and lobby for commercial sportfishing interests is perhaps problematic, but no more problematic than is the existence of United Cook Inlet Drift Association looking out for the interests of the driftnet fishery, the existence of Kenai Peninsula Fisher-men's Association looking out for the interests of the setnet fishery, or the existence of Kenai River Professional Guide's Association looking out for its guide's interests.

Special interests are not the problem we're all motivated by special and self-interests of one sort or another. What is problematic in this case is whether KRSA can ethically use the money garnered from its derby, the "Classic," which uses the publicly owned Kenai River and its salmon, to then lobby for its special interests, "educating" the Board of Fisheries concerning regulation of that same Kenai River and its salmon.

KRSA says its annual budget is a million dollars (Clarion, March 7). Mr. Gease is quoted as saying "As a side note, less than 2 percent of our program expenses go to KRSA education efforts at the Board of Fisheries." Two percent of one million dollars is $20,000, and that's a lot of money especially when compared to what the state spends on the local Fish and Game advisory committees that are established by the Legislature as the "... local forum for fish and wildlife conservation and use, including matters relating to habitat," which is a few hundred dollars, the price of sending only one advisory committee representative to Board of Fish meetings for only five days, regardless of how long the Board of Fish meeting lasts.

The ethical use of the money KRSA derives from its utilization of the publicly owned Kenai River and its salmon resources would be to return all of that money, minus only reasonable expenses, to the river. In fact, Chapter of The Kenai River Comprehensive Manage-ment Plan recommends that "Derbies on the Kenai River should be limited to those ... which are conducted by a 501(c) 3 nonprofit group that returns all of the funds generated to the Kenai River for conservation and education purposes, minus a reasonable deduction for event overhead and administrative costs."

Most, if not all, of the controversy surrounding the use of our area's fish resources is the product of the tension between fresh water and saltwater commercial interests and between the commercial and private exploitation of those resources. That KRSA wishes to educate the Board of Fisheries, lobbying for its members' interests, is understandable and part of being a community made up of diverse economic elements, but KRSA's educational efforts directed at the Board of Fish should be financed only by member contributions, not by any money derived from the use of the publicly owned Kenai River and its salmon.

John Nelson, Soldotna

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