Although there were no "big, burning issues" on the agenda of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Board of Fisheries work session in Kenai this week, Roland Maw of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association said he attended the session to get to know the regulators and make sure his association's interests are not left out of the process.
The work session held at the Challenger Learning Center Wednesday and Thursday was the first in the Board of Fisheries' meeting cycle on regulations affecting Upper Cook Inlet finfish, which it takes up every three years. The Board of Fish is gearing up for regulatory changes this cycle with several meetings around the state before the 14-day meeting on Upper Cook Inlet policy in February.
While some local attendees -- commercial and sport fishermen alike -- were eager to have the full board in the area for the first time in more than a decade, Maw was not as enthused.
"I don't get excited when I see the regulators and the department what I would view as doing basically the right thing," said the executive director of the commercial drift fleet organization.
The last time the board held its Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting on the Central Kenai Peninsula was in 1999 when a meeting in Soldotna became contentious. Area fishing associations, fishermen and local governments have been trying to have the Board of Fish meet here since then.
Dwight Kramer, a member of the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition that represents private anglers, said "politics" had kept the board from meeting on the Central Peninsula since 1999. He said he is hoping the Board of Fisheries will hold its 2014 meeting in the area.
Kramer said he attended the work session to familiarize himself with the board process and listen to how certain discussions are conducted, even though none of the issues were pertinent to him.
"I just wanted to welcome the board members here and further their confidence in having future meetings here," Kramer said. This week's session "went really smooth," he said.
"Hopefully this will quell all of the controversy about the Kenai/Soldotna area as being too hostile of an environment to host Upper Cook Inlet meetings," Kramer said.
Issues on the agenda included a presentation on stellar sea lion protection measures at Kanaga Island, as well as other management issues statewide for crab and finfish fisheries, but none specifically on Upper Cook Inlet.
At the work session Thursday, board members questioned the timing of Fish and Game's controversial cost recovery fishery program that occurred in June shortly after the Kenai River's temporary closure. The program, which takes place before the commercial fishing season opens, catches fish to fund the department's test fishery.
Jeff Regnart, of Fish and Game's Division of Commercial Fisheries, fielded the board's questions on the timing and location of the cost recovery. He said the department would look into the program. The cost recovery fishery is anticipated to be addressed again at the board's February meeting.
Gary Hollier, vice-president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, a group of local setnet fishermen, said he would like to see the Board of Fisheries have its next Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting in the area, too.
"Eighty-five percent of the proposals have to do with the Kenai and Kasilof rivers," he said. "Our organization appreciates the board coming down here and would like to have an opportunity, maybe a meeting in the next cycle."
"It's nice to have them here where the fishing industry is so alive and vibrant," said Dave Goggia, president of Kenai River Professional Guide Association.
He said Fish and Game's temporary closure of the Kenai River to king salmon fishing in June spurred the community to be involved in the process.
"It gives the public access to the fish board," Goggia said.
He said a couple of work session issues were of special importance to him and the guide association, including certain river closures and trawl fishing in Kodiak.
"We feel they are taking some of our immature kings," Goggia said about the Kodiak trawlers. And about the closures: "of course we want to see all fishermen have equal opportunity."
Maw said there are only two issues the United Cook Inlet Drift Association cares about for the Board of Fisheries' upcoming February meeting.
The first is that the board and the department ensure that the fisheries being managed have the maximum sustained yield, he said. The second is that fishermen have the opportunity to harvest the abundant stocks.
Attending the Board of Fish work session for him was a good chance to get to know board members' personalities and how items are handled before this winter's meeting on Upper Cook Inlet finfish in Anchorage.
"It helps in terms of how we prepare," Maw said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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