Although the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage is supposed to be dealing primarily with statewide shellfish issues, you wouldn't know it by listening to Tuesday's public comments.
At least half of the public comments heard Tuesday had to deal with the management early king salmon runs on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. The issue, which was added to the meeting agenda following vocal public dissatisfaction with regulations the board passed in February 2002, has been a hot topic on the peninsula over the past year.
Those who testified Tuesday were mixed between those who favor the use of catch-and-release as a management tool to protect large, "five ocean" king salmon and those who favor limitations on guides and nonresident anglers.
Kenai River Sportfishing Association member Eldon Mulder was the first person to speak Tuesday. Mulder said KRSA believes the public wants to see a predictable harvest opportunity on the Kenai, as well as protection of the largest kings. He said the use of a nonretention slot limit during the early run for fish measuring between 45 and 55 inches would allow that to happen.
"The public won't be as frustrated, in my opinion, if they have a predictable fishery," Mulder testified.
However, Mulder's assessment of the public's opinion was not shared by all who testified. Ted Wellman, representing the Kenai River Property Owners Assoc-iation, said he believes local fishers have been pushed off the river by nonresident anglers and fishing guides who harvest the majority of the fish.
He said he believes the answer is to cut the amount of time nonresidents and guides are allowed on the river until the resident harvest of kings reaches 50 percent of the total harvest.
"We're willing to share," Wellman said. "Just not to have the entire run dominated by commercial entities."
The board is not expected to decide on how to manage the early run until next week. The issue likely will be decided when the board and the public breaks into committees to study the issue. Committee F, which will deal with the Kenai issue, is tentatively scheduled to meet in the latter half of next week.
Board chair Ed Dersham said he believes the controversial issue can come to a resolution. Dersham said that although there certainly is a difference of opinion over how to regulate the fishery, he thinks all parties can reach some form of agreement.
"We're definitely hearing lots of different opinions," Dersham said. "I certainly haven't made up my mind yet."
Dersham expressed optimism that the issue can be settled during the committee process.
"Our committee process is pretty well set up to deal with this," he said. "I don't think it's a hopeless cause at this point."
The board will continue hearing public comments today, with committees scheduled to begin work Thursday.
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