UA embarking on several studies on diversifying Alaska's economy

Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2001

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- The University of Alaska is embarking on several research studies to advise lawmakers on a more diversified state economy.

One of the studies will take a look at the Cook Inlet commercial fishery and attempt to answer this question: What would happen if the upper Cook Inlet commercial fishery were bought out, closed up, finished?

The idea of buying up permits held by setnetters and driftnetters who target the supply of Kenai River-bound salmon has been raised for years. It would hand the Kenai's remarkable salmon runs over to sportfishermen, dipnetters and other noncommercial users.

UA announced Tuesday it will begin the Inlet fishing research, as well as five other economic studies, with $500,000 in seed money provided by BP and Phillips Petroleum.

The research also will examine the air cargo industry, the future of Native corporations in economic development, preparing Alaskans for in-state jobs, understanding the Permanent Fund, and the satellite data retrieval and analysis industry.

The university's Institute of Social and Economic Research will do most of the research.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association's Bob Penney welcomes the new study. Penney wrote a letter to university president Mark Hamilton last month asking the university to look into buybacks.

''It may be so unwelcome that it's not even feasible, but until you do the study, how do you know that?'' Penney said Tuesday.

Hamilton, a personal guest of Penney's at the recent Kenai River Classic salmon habitat fund-raiser on the Kenai River, said the university had already planned this research at the urging of lawmakers before Penney wrote his letter. He said he got the letter Tuesday.

Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, an avid sportfisherman, said the Cook Inlet basin's fish streams ought to be set aside for anglers. He said he believes sport-caught fish are more valuable economically than commercially caught fish, and that a study would prove that.

Kenai Peninsula lawmakers are cooler to the idea.

''My reaction is not favorable,'' said Rep. Drew Scalzi, a Republican from Homer who runs a commercial fish tender.

Scalzi, Sen. John Torgerson, a Republican from Kasilof, and Rep. Ken Lancaster, a Soldotna Republican, said they told Penney that any research into a commercial buyout should include talks with people in the business.

''I think if (Hamilton) wants to do this thing, I suggested early on that he meet with fishermen and get a sense of which way they want to go,'' Torgerson said.

Rob Williams, a board member of United Fishermen of Alaska and president of Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, a setnetters organization, said he supports research in general. But he predicted a buyout would be a tough sell.

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