This summer there have been several ADN Compass pieces, articles from other print and electronic media and countless blogs stoking the fires of the Cook inlet fish wars. Recently, however, some have suggested that the lack of fish and fishing opportunity is a problem that can only be solved through a collaborative effort of all users. They are correct.
A recent Compass piece, "Kenai fishing groups must work together" (Aug. 5) rightfully stated that all users who benefit from the Kenai-river bound king salmon must work together to protect this resource. As the author correctly states, this indeed does include the sport and guided sport users as well as the commercial fishers.
The Upper Cook inlet presents unusual challenges to the ADF&G ( Dept.) and The Alaska Board of Fish when it comes to management and allocation. King salmon and sockeye salmon move from salt water to the rivers on the Kenai at about the same time. Sockeye runs have been fairly robust for the last few years, and escapement goals achieved. And while escapement goals for kings have also been achieved, costly restrictions to both the commercial fisheries and sport and guided sport fisheries have been utilized to help achieve these escapements.
The department believes that it must balance the need to prevent excessive escapement of sockeye with the need to achieve at least the minimum range for escapement of kings, which complies with the constitutional principal of sustained yield. It is not an easy task. Both commercial and sports fisheries contribute significant economic benefits to the immediate area as well as to the state in general. And everyone wants their fair share.
Unfortunately, wild stocks of kings salmon are in decline statewide. Nobody seems to have all the answers. Historically when wild stocks of fish go away, it is generally because of over harvest somewhere. We are certainly not at that point yet, but we should take a precautionary approach and do what we can to preserve any salmon stock in decline. We cannot willfully sacrifice one species to help enhance the harvest of another. It is contrary to our constitution and morally wrong.
Users from both groups have been blaming the other for the problems encountered in allocating the resource and managing the fishery. The department and the board have come under fire as well. Finger-pointing and accusations do little to solve the problem. What will help is having a large number of the users show up for the Board of Fish meeting scheduled for January and present information helpful to the board. There are many regulatory proposals to discuss and decide in addressing the issues debated this summer.
The Board of Fish is comprised of seven members selected from throughout the state, with diverse backgrounds. It is well balanced between those with commercial, sport, and subsistence experience. It takes four votes to pass a regulation. There are ample opportunities for all members of the public to present their side before a vote. Written comments are accepted before the board meets, additional written comments can be made during the meeting, the public is given the opportunity to testify at the meeting, and board members are always available and willing to listen to constructive comments. It is a transparent process that emphasizes public input.
The author of the August 5 Compass is spot on when he states that all of the people that utilize the resource will have to contribute to the dialog if we are to preserve this resource. I do not think that he need be concerned with a "tainted" process.
I hope that the meeting is well attended with fair representation from all users. With the controversy that has been raised this summer by concerned people from the Kenai area and from Anchorage and the Mat Valley, I would not be surprised to see record turnouts. In a spirit of cooperation with the goal of conservation and fair allocation, we can all continue to reap the rewards of our wonderful fishery resources.
Karl Johnstone is chairman of the Alaska Board of Fish.