Fish and Game advisory committee fights for rights

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2007

The Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee discussed several proposals for next fall’s joint Boards of Fisheries and Game meeting and threw its support behind measures that would enhance the roles of advisory committees in the board process.

The advisory committee also voiced opposition to several proposals that would diminish the voice of local advisory committees, including measures that would combine the Central Peninsula Advisory Committee with Homer and Kenai-Soldotna with Cooper Landing.

In discussing their opposition to proposals that would merge peninsula advisory committees, members of the Kenai-Soldotna committee cited the diversity of user groups represented on the committee and the committee’s ability to address local issues as reasons each of the peninsula’s advisory committees should remain separate entities.

“I just don’t think our local concerns would be addressed by combining ACs,” committee member Paul Shadura said.

The committee did express support for measures that would give advisory committees a greater voice in the Fish and Game board process. Three proposals would give advisory committees seats at the table during board deliberations -- something committee chair Gary Dawkins said was the norm in the past.

The committee voted to oppose a measure that would do away with regional advisory committees. While a regional advisory committee process has never been fully implemented, Dawkins said, the idea behind it is that representatives from each local advisory committee would meet as a regional committee. The group would then be able to further filter the hundreds of proposals that make it to the board for each meeting, giving more weight and credibility to the comments generated by local advisory committees.

“This would take away a really good tool that we had to communicate with the boards,” Dawkins said.

The committee voted in opposition to measures that would change the way advisory committees are run. One measure would make an advisory committee meeting a town hall style meeting. Committee members envisioned a free-for-all where whichever user group that could muster the most attendees would control the agenda, threatening the balance the committee has worked hard to establish over the past few years.

Two proposals would institute new qualifications for board members, including disqualifying potential committee members who, in the last five years, have committed hunting or sport, subsistence or personal-use fishing violations for which they were fined $1,000 or imprisoned for more than five days; or for commercial fishing violations drawing fines of more than $3,000.

While some board members expressed concerns that the allowable limits on fines were too low -- some minor violations can add up quickly, Shadura said -- Dawkins said the bigger issue was enforceability of such a measure.

“Who’s going to ask these questions?” Dawkins said.

The committee supported an amended version of the proposal that would remove the language pertaining to violations with a comment that restricting a person’s opportunity to participate in an advisory committee should be left to judges and legislators.

The joint Boards of Fisheries and Game will meet in Anchorage on Oct. 5-8. The deadline for the public to submit written comments is Sept. 21. Proposals to be addressed at the meeting can be found on the Internet at www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/fishgame/index.php.

The committee also had an opportunity to ask questions of Mark Fink, a Fish and Game habitat biologist working on the Chuitna coal project.

Fink clarified to the committee several questions left from a presentation on the project last week by Bob Shavelson from Cook Inletkeeper, including some information on how PacRim Coal plans to extract the coal and, more importantly to many members of the committee, what their plans for restoring mined areas are.

Fink said PacRim plans to mine one section at a time, and then begin reclamation of mined sections as the project moves along. The mining plan calls for diversion of tributaries of the Chuitna around mining activity, the feasibility of which Fink said habitat biologists still are assessing.

Fink said as a habitat biologist the first question he asks is if it is a project worth having, and if it is, can the impact be minimized? He said he’d like to see a plan where fish passage is maintained, even while mining activity is occurring.

“Everyone on this board has a pain threshold; I’m curious how painful this is going to be,” committee member Mike Crawford said of the project. Crawford also asked Fink if there were questions that needed to be asked but hadn’t been.

“Just get more people aware of it,” said Fink, who had noted earlier in the meeting that the Chuitna project “hadn’t got as much attention as it should get.”

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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