An Outdoor View: The process

If fish mean anything to you, grab your calendar and circle Oct. 18, 2016. That’s when the Alaska Board of Fisheries will be in Soldotna to hear Kenai Peninsula residents’ comments on proposed fishing regulations. If you care, be there.

On the other hand, you could simply ignore what’s happening, and allow the commercial gill netters, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and the fishing guides to influence the people who make the fishing rules.

In the not-so-distant past, commercial interests dominated the fish board and the entire regulatory process, including the state’s fishing and hunting advisory committees. At present, there’s a shaky balance between sport and commercial interests, but the sport-fishing industry has grown and become increasingly aggressive in recent years. Because guides, lodge-owners and others in this industry are more interested in their bottom lines than in the wants and needs of Alaskans who fish mainly for food and fun, “Joe and Mary Fisherman” are often nowhere in sight at fish-board meetings.

It’s not that Joe and Mary are a minority. They comprise the vast majority of Alaskans. However, only by having an economic stake in either the sport fishing industry or the commercial fishing industry would anyone sit through a two-week board meeting. The expense, alone, discourages most people. The board should be careful to address the concerns of Joe and Mary — most Alaskans.

If you’re one of the Joes or Marys who can’t attend a fish-board meeting, you should at least let your concerns be known to the board. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to learn about the board and how you can become involved in the rule-making process. On the Alaska Board of Fisheries web page, you can download proposal books and meeting schedules, and learn how to send in your comments on proposals. There’s even an online form for sending in comments.

One regulation that concerns me is the one that allows opening the Kenai River to “catch and release fishing only” for king salmon fishing. The supposed purpose of this is to allow opportunity to fish, while allowing as many king salmon as possible to survive and spawn. I contend that if a salmon species is returning in such low numbers that there is no “harvestable surplus,” the fish should be left alone. I’m not alone in this opinion. In mid-May, a poll in the Clarion asked, “Do you agree with Fish and Game’s decision to allow catch-and-release fishing for early run king salmon?” Of the 224 readers who responded, only 40 answered, “Yes.” The other 184 answered “No.”

Salmon don’t need noise and commotion on their spawning grounds, let alone being hooked and “played” to exhaustion just so some tourist from Nebraska can cross out “king salmon” on his bucket list. I don’t care that one study found that only 7 percent of king salmon that are caught and released die from the experience. What matters to me is that playing with fish that are fighting for survival shows a total lack of respect, not only for the fish, but for sport of fishing.

To make matters worse, the Department of Fish and Game encourages it. Anything to sell fishing licenses. Worse yet, the current “catch and release fishing only” regulations are linked to commercial gill-netting regulations. It’s the old, “If I can’t play in this sandbox, you can’t, either.”

But I digress. In anticipation of the upcoming meeting, I’ll be commenting on several proposals for regulations. Please gather your concerns and join me.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries meets once every three years. In addition to the hearing in Soldotna Oct. 18, mentioned above, the board will vote on Upper Cook Inlet Finfish proposals at a 14-day meeting in Anchorage, Feb. 23, 2017 to March 8, 2017. The deadline for comments is Feb. 9, 2017.

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Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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