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University study of salmon issues will be wide-ranging

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton said the university is committed to a long-term study of Alaska salmon issues, despite the concerns raised by Cook Inlet commercial fishermen who fear it will favor sport fishing interests.

''The university isn't going to come out with a study that advocates anything, '' Hamilton told the Peninsula Clarion.

The university announced last month that it would begin a study of Cook Inlet fishing, in addition to studying five other Alaska economic issues, with $500,000 in seed money provided by BP and Phillips Petroleum.

The university is interested in a study that could include sport-fishing issues, he said, but it has not yet determined specific topics to cover or how much to spend, he said.

''We need to scope out what people are interested in, what needs to be done first, who we need to engage. That includes other agencies and research institutions,'' he said.

Economist Gunnar Knapp of the university's Institute of Social and Economic Research is to lead the study. He said the first step will be a report on the major issues surrounding Alaska salmon.

''It's to help people get some perspective, because a lot of these issues are really statewide,'' Knapp said.

Commercial fishermen have market problems, and some salmon runs are in severe decline, he said. There are questions of what kinds of sport fishing Alaskans want to develop.

''There are problems about do we want more guides or less guides?'' Knapp said. ''There are allocation issues in Cook Inlet and the Copper River. There are issues about hatcheries and salmon farming.''

People across Alaska are talking about a buyback of commercial salmon fishing permits, and not always in connection with allocation disputes, he said.

''These are complicated questions. We're not interested in rubber-stamping anything. Hopefully, the role the university can play is helping people to understand the complex nature of things,'' Knapp said.

Economists are very interested in users' ideas, Knapp said.

''But ultimately, we'll decide what to study. It's not a vote, but we want to hear from people,'' he said.

Bob Merchant, president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, a commercial fishing group, remained wary.

''I don't want the university to get sucked into these political fights,'' Merchant said. He questioned the social and economic information the university wants to add to the debate.

''That's political. That's someone sitting around, smoking a cigar and saying the best thing we can do with Cook Inlet is turn it into a sport fishery,'' he said.



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