Complex fisheries issues provide many questions

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2001

Fish and fishing define the character of the Kenai Peninsula. Sure, there are lots of other aspects to life here, but nothing else has so large a sphere of influence -- no matter what else we do.

We fish for fun. We fish to eat. We fish because the generations before us fished. We fish because we can. We fish because we can't imagine life without fishing.

Fish is more than our bread and butter. It also nourishes our spirits. No matter what our method, fishing connects us to this place we call home in a way that buying fish from a supermarket never will.

Our summertime catches determine our wintertime meals, whether fishing is our livelihood or our recreation or our way of life. And, in the summer, we spend a great deal of time not just catching and eating fish, but talking, living and breathing fish.

We also spend a lot of time in spring, summer, winter and fall arguing fish. In fact, the peninsula's fish fights are almost as legendary as its world-class fish runs.

It's ironic we spend so much time arguing about fish, when there's universal agreement that we should do whatever it takes to protect fish habitat and preserve our many fish runs.

Oh, and let's not forget, we also want our particular fishing lifestyle guaranteed.

And that's where the questions surrounding fisheries issues grow increasingly complex. Can we preserve habitat, fish runs and ways of life as our population increases and as more and more visitors come to sample what we cherish about the peninsula?

If so, how? Who should have priority over the fish? Whose fish are they, anyway? Are habitat protection measures keeping up with human pressure on the fish? Is there a way to fairly dish out the fish pie so everyone is well fed? Are some fishing methods better than others? Should traditional fishing methods and lifestyles take precedence over newer ones? Should change be considered inevitable? Should residents have priority over visitors when it comes to fish? How can we assure all fisheries decisions are based on good science and not good politics?

Beginning today, the Peninsula Clarion will be taking a look at our fisheries in a series called "Changing Tides." The series won't provide the answers to the numerous complex questions surrounding our fish, but we're hopeful it will provide some perspective and context to our debates.

More importantly, we hope it will give us a new way to discuss fishing. Only when we get away from a win-lose mentality will we be able to protect habitat, fish and lifestyles for those who follow us.

Fishing defines not only the character of the peninsula, but it has shaped the character of the peninsula's people. When future generations write about today, will they say we were good stewards of the remarkable environment in which we live? Will we be able to put aside our individual interests for the sake of the fish and the future as we seek our piece of this priceless resource? Will our character be found as sterling as our fish runs?

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