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Magnuson-Stevens Act benefits have yet to reach Cook Inlet

  • Author: David Martin
  • Updated: June 25, 2016
  • Published April 24, 2016

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act turned 40 last week and federal and state fishery managers marked that event with an opinion piece (ADN, April 12) extolling the successes of the act and its implementation in Alaska as a "global model of sustainability." As the authors point out, the Magnuson-Stevens Act sets up a "transparent governing process" intended to ensure "science is behind every fishery management decision" in Alaska. Indeed, the act sets up national standards ensuring all fisheries are managed to achieve "optimum yield from each fishery" with management decisions "based on the best scientific information available," and guided by carefully considered fishery management plans.

We can all find common ground in recognizing the benefits associated with management under the act, as well as many of the successes of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fish programs in ensuring the long-term stewardship of Alaska's fisheries.

The problem is many important fisheries have been left out of the act's fold. The Cook Inlet salmon fishery is a prime example. Every year, some 10 to 30 million salmon pass through federal waters in the Inlet, en route to their native streams. These are some of the largest wild salmon runs in the world, and they go largely unharvested.

But the NPFMC and NOAA plainly don't want anything to do with Inlet salmon fisheries, despite their obligation under federal law. The council never took an active role in managing the fishery, and in 2012, with approval from NOAA, removed the Inlet from the council's Fishery Management Plan, despite the objections of the commercial fishing industry.

The result is the benefits of Magnuson-Stevens Act have never come to pass in Cook Inlet. The Inlet does not get the benefit of "drawing on NOAA's environmental intelligence to improve stock assessments and assess the impact of climate change on fish population." The Inlet does not get to draw upon the act's "transparent governing process" or the robust "public-private management process founded under MSA." The Inlet does not get to draw on the act's promises of optimum yield for each fishery, or the promise that "science is behind every fishery management decision" in Alaska.

Instead, the Inlet is left with the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Regardless of whether you believe those who claim the Fish Board "isn't broken" (ADN, March 16) or others who believe it certainly is broken (ADN, March 30), no one can reasonably argue the Fish Board process can match the transparency of the council, or claim that "science is behind every fishery management decision" made by board members.

There should not be any real doubt, of course, why the council doesn't want to deal with salmon management in the Inlet. The resource disputes between user groups are contentious and long-standing. But the need for the scientific rigor and transparency the council can provide has never been greater. The Fish Board has made no real effort to find solutions to managing Inlet salmon fisheries in light of poor returns of some stocks, the identification of several "stocks of concern," impacts from invasive species, and growing habitat problems from both urbanization and climate change. The result in recent years has been sport and commercial fishery closures and restrictions, the loss of millions of unharvested salmon, the loss of tens of millions of dollars to the regional economy and the loss of millions of dollars to the state treasury.

All Inlet salmon fisheries would plainly benefit from coordinating the state's long-standing salmon management experience with the council's transparent, science-based process. This is precisely what the Magnuson-Stevens Act contemplates. Hopefully, the sport and commercial fishermen and the coastal communities in the Inlet won't have to wait another 40 years for the promises of the act to be fulfilled.

David Martin is president of United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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