Last weekend the Alaska Legislature voted against the confirmation of Soldotna resident Robert Ruffner for a seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Ruffner is well respected locally, statewide and nationally for his work on habitat and clean water issues and their relationship to providing good salmon rearing conditions. He is also a resource user who participates in the sport and personal use fisheries. With his scientific background he was probably the best-qualified applicant this position has seen in a long time.
So what went wrong? Kenai River Sportfishing Association decided it would not be able to wield power and influence over the Fish Board process as well if Ruffner was a sitting member of the board.
So what was the association so afraid of? Two major things:
First, it understood Ruffner's character and knew he had too much integrity to fall victim to its enticements or influence peddling.
Second, association members cannot stand the thought of having someone on the board that has an in-depth knowledge about the Kenai River and offshore fishery issues. It would mean that they could no longer get by with providing a naive board with false, misleading or cherry-picked data to win approval on important issues vital to successfully furthering their agenda.
So what is their agenda? Plain and simple, KRSA is a guide industry lobbying organization that has a single goal of eliminating commercial fishing in Cook Inlet so the tourism and guide industries can prosper. The association doesn't care who it hurts along the way, whether a distinguished and well-respected local candidate for the Fish Board or struggling commercial fishing families, the commercial fishing industry and associated local jobs, or mom and pop private anglers who just want to spend an enjoyable day out fishing. None of this matters to them if they perceive someone is not supportive of the association's agenda. Its involvement in the Ban Setnet Initiative, along with another Bob Penney sister organization, is a prime example of its allocative greed at the ultimate expense of some of our neighbors and friends.
How did the association do it? It spent a great deal of money and manpower with its lobbying team trolling the halls of the Capitol spreading lies and misinformation about Ruffner to all of the legislators, claiming that he was not a true sport fisherman but instead had strong ties to the commercial fishing industry. Then, when Ruffner went to Juneau himself to dispel these claims, KRSA, along with its sister organizations, started forwarding the notion that any Southcentral representative on the Fish Board had to come from Anchorage because it has the biggest population base of resource users. KRSA members were desperate to do anything to keep a Soldotna /Kenai representative off the board. It should also be mentioned here that another local organization, the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, joined them in this effort to keep Ruffner off the board.
It is time for our community to cut ties with KRSA. We should not accept its unethical behavior or lack of compassion for other respectable members of our community. The manner in which it wields power and influence against our community to achieve its own goals is no longer acceptable. It is time for all municipal leaders, legislators and Alaska Department of Fish and Game personnel to stop attending the association's events like the Kenai Classic. It is time for the Chamber of Commerce, the hospital board, and other area businesses to also withdraw their financial or volunteer support of any and all KRSA events.
When we see so many unethical examples of how our local support and volunteering on behalf of KRSA is used against our community and its members, it is time to put a stop to it. The association itself has become too divisive and corrosive in a community like ours that values a diversified economy and needs to foster cooperation and respect for the good of all concerned.
Dwight Kramer lives in Kenai area and describes himself as a "Joe Fisherman" private, sport angler.