Fish board should meet where the fish are -- here

Posted: Friday, November 06, 2009

"The good thing about having (the Board of Fisheries) meeting here (in Soldotna) is that regular, local sport fishermen who don't usually get to participate could go to it. A lot of guys are losing the opportunity to see how the system works.

"On a personal level, I was kind of looking forward to having it here and going home at night."

This quote from Kenai River guide Mel Erickson didn't appear in the Clarion recently in response to the fish board's decision to hold its 2011 upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting in Anchorage.

Nor was it published in response to the 2008 meeting in Anchorage, or the one in 2005, or 2002.

Erickson made this comment to the Clarion in March of 1998, when the board considered moving the 1999 meeting to Anchorage after scheduling it for Soldotna. The 1999 meeting was held in Soldotna at the sports center, but when it comes to getting the board to meet here again, we've been swimming upstream ever since.

When the Board of Fisheries discusses Kodiak issues, it meets in Kodiak. For lower Cook Inlet, it meets in Homer.

In other words, the board meets where the fish are.

So when we're talking about upper Cook Inlet finfish proposals, doesn't it make sense for the board to meet in the Kenai-Soldotna area? After all, this is where the fish are.

Yet it's been a decade since the fish board last met here.

In recent years, the reasoning for holding the upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage has been that it's neutral ground. Plenty of sport and personal-use fishermen live in Anchorage and the Mat-Su, and holding the meeting in Anchorage makes it more accessible for them.

That may be true, but look at it this way: for the 2008 meeting, 227 of the 286 proposals to be considered involved Kenai Peninsula fisheries, the Kasilof and Kenai rivers in particular. These proposals affect all aspects of fishing -- sport, personal-use and commercial. And let's be honest, when it comes to salmon allocation issues, there is no such thing as neutral ground.

The vast majority of Cook Inlet commercial fishermen live here on the peninsula. Any new regulations would affect the guides who operate here. The vast majority of resident recreational sport fishermen live here. Yes, a whole bunch of personal-use fishermen flock to the peninsula each summer, but the impacts from those fisheries are felt here.

Shouldn't the people directly affected by board decisions have better access to the process?

Yes, a fish board meeting held in Kenai or Soldotna likely will be more contentious than one held at a posh hotel in Anchorage. But that tension will lead to better decisions by the board when it comes to determining fishery management policies.

It's time for these decisions to be made where they matter most.

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