Commercial, sport fish debate has long-term impact on stock

Posted: Monday, July 26, 2004

Here we go again!

The latest maneuver by the Commercial Fish Division of Alaska Department of Fish and Game is astounding. Somehow, when native stocks need the most protection, they have convinced the Alaska Board of Fish to allow more fishing time for commercial fishers. Amazingly every weekend when most Alaskans can fish, Fish and Game has allowed extra fishing time for commercial harvest. This has occurred the last several years; a coincidence? A fluke? Maybe just happenstance? I don't think so! They seem to have forgotten these fish belong to you!

The Anchorage Daily News reports on Friday "fishing is good." Then when you arrive, commercial fish division issues "back-to-back" openings for the commercial fishers. You are now fishing in a desert! For those that are not familiar with the situation we face, commercial fishers have continually supported a program to stock the Kasilof and Kenai rivers with millions of sockeye fry for the last 20-plus years. Historic numbers (provided by Fish and Game) show returns of approximately 35,000 to 125,000 fish to the Kasilof River. Surprisingly, since 6.2 million fry a year have been dumped into Tustumena Lake, this run has been inflated to returns of more than 400,000 (this means odds are the nets are in). This is the cruncher. If an enhanced sockeye returns to Cook Inlet and makes it to spawn, its offspring are now considered "wild." That's why commercial fish division says, "oh no, only 10 percent of are return is stocked." Meanwhile thousands of native sockeye, silver and king salmon must survive the continual emergency orders issued by Alaska Commercial Fish Division. This is the exact scenario that has decimated salmon runs throughout the world. One enhanced strong stock, sockeyes, other less abundant natural stocks (kings, chums and silvers).

Let's face it, folks, mankind doesn't have a very good track record with salmon ... something like zero in a thousand. Another interesting fact to this argument is that for the last two years we have heard about the "lack of public process" in the management of our fisheries expressed by our local advisory boards and commercial fishers. Many people have spent thousands of hours and spent countless days in motels to come to a compromise to solve biological and social fisheries issues.

I do not blame commercial fishers for fishing. If someone told me it was OK to fish, I would, too, but it is obvious that the long-standing feud between the sport and comm. divisions of the Fish and Game has reached a level where the fish don't matter anymore. Suddenly after an hour phone call, the entire Cook Inlet management plan has been radically changed. A new precedence has been set.

Our community is going to suffer and our economy will suffer. Most importantly, salmon are in more danger than ever. If the people of Alaska don't step up and let their concerns be heard, our native stocks will meet the same demise as others worldwide.

Good luck next weekend.

Joe Hanes, Soldotna



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