Our View: Health of fisheries comes first

Politics of salmon

Board must keep eye on prize of sustainable fisheries

It's tougher to catch a king on the Kenai River these days than it was a few years ago.

But it's still easier to catch a king than to settle our perennial battles over salmon.

Actually, we never settle them. Commercial, sport and subsistence fishing all have legitimate claims to the resource, and divvying up the treasure has been an Alaska's challenge since statehood.

That's the challenge again before the Alaska Board of Fisheries during a two-week meeting that begins today in Anchorage.

It's a challenge we've met imperfectly at best.

But Alaska still has a reputation for sound fisheries management.

Alaska has earned that reputation because we have stood by the principle of sustained yield. The health of the fishery comes before any claim.

That's just common sense, because it takes neither a fisheries degree nor a lifetime on the water to know that if we don't sustain the fishery, we've got nothing to argue about.

The board will feel the heat from the get-go, with reports from committees and public testimony over the first three days. Competing interests and conflicting explanations for low returns will clamor for attention.

Kenai kings will be front and center. The world class sport fishery has suffered low escapement and much restriction the last few years. To protect and rebuild this fishery must be a priority of the board.

The board's job can be thankless because when they allocate salmon they allocate pain. But there's no doubt the board must first do what's best for all of our fisheries, without fear or favor.

BOTTOM LINE: Health of fisheries must trump any claim in the salmon wars.