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Dunleavy picks would restore balance to Board of Fish

  • Author: Ben Mohr
    | Opinion
  • Updated: April 17
  • Published April 17

The Alaska State Capitol is seen at sunset Wednesday, March 6, 2019 in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

Alaska’s diverse salmon fisheries need to be carefully managed and fairly balanced among competing interests. Unfortunately, that is not happening. The current Board of Fisheries is skewed in favor of commercial fishing interests, which creates significant disadvantages for families that depend on personal use fishing to put food on the table and sports fishermen. It’s time to correct this imbalance.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is working to restore balance to the board, and we congratulate him for it. His recent nominations, if confirmed, will ensure that Alaska’s personal use and sport fishing interests enjoy as much representation as commercial fishing interests.

Why does this really matter? Ask any Alaskan who has been forbidden in recent years to fish for famous Kenai River kings, or who has witnessed what once was a productive fishery in the Matanuska Valley declining almost to the point of disappearing. These Alaskans will gladly relay their opinions about how the current Board of Fish has managed the resource, and it won’t be pretty.

One of the governor’s nominees, former judge Karl Johnstone, exemplifies the type of person Alaskans need on the Board of Fish. Karl served on the Board of Fisheries from 2008 to 2015. His work was so admired across all user groups that the Alaska Legislature honored him in 2015, saying in part, “Mr. Johnstone’s record on the Board represents the gold standard of public service.” A resident of Alaska since 1967, Karl has experience as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay and in Southeast, and today is an avid fly fisherman.

Perhaps Karl’s greatest asset is the respect he has earned from diverse fishing stakeholders for his actions on the Board — fighting against federal overreach, opening new commercial opportunities, and balancing the needs of passionate, competing interests. In fact, just a few days ago, well-respected former senators Clem Tillion and Mike Szmanski testified in support of Johnstone’s nomination. Both Tillion and Szmanski are commercial fishing advocates, but are familiar enough with Johnstone’s evenhanded reputation to strongly support his nomination.

We at the Kenai River Sportfishing Association understand that our fisheries must be managed with equal consideration for competing interests, but that cannot happen with a Board that favors one user group over the needs of the others. Moreover, we adamantly believe that only a balanced board can address the very real and complex challenges facing the state’s fisheries. We strongly encourage members of the public to contact their state legislators immediately to urge their support for Karl Johnstone and the governor’s other Board of Fisheries nominations. The Legislature has the power to restore balance to the board and, by doing so, serve the needs of all Alaskans. Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.

Ben Mohr is the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit fishery conservation organization that works to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of fish resources in the Kenai River and elsewhere in Alaska.

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