Compass: Speak up, because the fish belong to you

On January 31 the Alaska Board of Fisheries starts a 14-day meeting to address the Upper Cook Inlet fisheries. The meeting will take place in Anchorage at the Egan Convention Center. This will present an opportunity to help resolve the "fish wars" that have been the subject of so many print, and electronic media outlets and talked about so often in various blogs.

There is no other process that is driven by the public as much as the board process at these meetings. It allows the public to be heard in many ways, not the least of which is the opportunity to provide oral testimony at the meeting. Each person is given three minutes to provide information to the board on whatever subject the witness believes to be important. The public is encouraged to speak with board members and to lobby for their interests. Written comments are encouraged both before and during the meeting. Committees are formed during the meeting in which the public can again have their voices heard. When deliberations begin the public can be assured that it has had ample opportunity to make their points.

I encourage all who have an interest in the Mat Su Valley, Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula fish resources to attend and make yourselves heard at the meeting. The board is ever mindful, and often influenced by the voices of those impacted most by our decisions.

We know that it takes an effort to attend these meetings. People have to work for a living, have families to attend, and in some cases just do not have time. We understand. Those able and willing to attend this meeting will be required to sign up to testify by not later than 9 a.m. of the second day of the meeting, which is February 1. People might be called to testify as early as the first day of the meeting and will be called in the order they signed up each day until all have been heard. It is not the same as being called as a witness in a courtroom.

There is no oath. There is no cross examination. You are there to help us and we value whatever you have to say.

Because of all the publicity surrounding these fisheries, I expect and hope for a large turnout. This is your chance to be part of the solution and help the board set the right policies for the management of your fish resources. And they are your fish resources. Alaska's constitution plainly states that this valuable resource is to be utilized for the "maximum benefit of its people". That is you it is referring to.

Whether you are a sports fisher, a dip net fisher, a subsistence user, or a commercial fisher, your input is important. The board members are just like most of you. We are not a professional body. Most of us on the board do not have specialized knowledge in fisheries management or biology. We get needed information to assist us in our decisions from experts in the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and from you, the public.

The management of the Cook Inlet fisheries has been very challenging, especially during the last two years. There appears to be fewer and fewer fish being chased by more and more people. As a result, sports, dip net , and commercial fishers have been restricted in their fisheries. The board needs to hear from you on what changes, if any, need to occur to resolve these challenges. Your voice is important.

So, consider using it at the Upper Cook Inlet meeting. You will be welcomed.

Karl Johnstone is chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries.