Fishing interests tell panel Alaska should serve as model

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska fishing interests testifying before the Pew Oceans Commission cautioned Wednesday against any broad-brush solutions to restore and protect the nation's fisheries.

The commission is assessing the health of the oceans and will make formal recommendations in a report to Congress next year.

''It's impossible to make recommendations on the oceans without coming to Alaska,'' said Leon Panetta, chairman of the 18-member commission. The panel has already held meetings in California, Maine, Hawaii and South Carolina and is scheduled to visit Louisiana.

Panetta said Alaska's fisheries are ''astonishingly rich,'' but he also noted worrisome species declines in Alaska waters, including fur seals, Aleutian sea otters, some crab species and Steller sea lions.

At the panel's meeting in Anchorage Wednesday, representatives of commercial and sport fishing interests, processors and regulators said Alaska has managed to avoid many of the problems facing marine environments elsewhere.

''Alaska's fisheries are well managed and should not be lumped in with broad statements that the world's fisheries are in trouble,'' said Tom Gemmell, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

Kris Norosz, a governmental affairs representative with Icicle Seafoods, told the panel that processors have worked to protect fisheries by funding scientific research and the fisheries observer program and by developing practices to avoid bycatch. She echoed Gemmell's sentiment that Alaska's fisheries are different from those in the rest of the country.

''In formulating your recommendations to Congress I ask that you carefully consider our success story here in Alaska,'' she said.

Norosz said the fishing industry should not be blamed for all changes in the marine environment. The industry is not opposed to changes in fisheries management to protect species and habitat, but wants to make sure such changes are based on sound science, she said.

Brett Huber, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, told the panel that, with a few exceptions, Alaska's fisheries are in good health. He said the public-private partnerships formed to improve and protect fish habitat in Alaska could serve as a model elswhere. But he said more needs to be done to reduce bycatch.

Dave Benton, who chairs the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, told the panel that strong local management, public participation and sound science have helped protect the state's fisheries.

''We don't want to paint everything up here as perfect. It's not. But we've done a reasonably good job.

The commission visited Seward on Sunday and was scheduled to go to Kodiak on Thursday before leaving Alaska.

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