Les Palmer: Changing the process

Author’s note: The Clarion previously published the following column on Mar. 25, 1994. Nothing has changed except the economic value of sport fishing for salmon in Cook Inlet and adjacent waters, which now exceeds the economic value of the Cook Inlet commercial salmon harvest. Twenty years have passed, and special interests continue to control how the resource is managed. — LP

If present legislation to give more Cook Inlet red salmon to anglers does nothing else, it spotlights the seriously flawed way Alaska allocates fisheries resources. That sport fishermen felt it necessary to go to the legislature was a sure sign of big problems.

The problems stem from the domination of our fisheries regulatory process by special interests. Not surprisingly, these same special interests control the legislature, and always have.

In 1949, when the Territorial Legislature created the first Alaska Fisheries Board, commercial fishing interests were about the only interests in sight. All five of those early-day board members were commercially oriented.

In 1957, when the legislature created the Alaska Fish and Game Commission, the seven members included one commercial fishermen from each of three regions, one fish processor, one sport fisherman, one hunter, and one trapper. Even if the fisherman, the hunter and the trapper agreed on an issue, the commercials still had them out-voted.

In 1975, the legislature created the present Board of Fisheries. Instead of designating board seats by special interest groups, the new law said the seven board members “…shall be appointed without regard to political affiliation or geographical location of residence… .”

Has this “improved” law brought equity to the board?

No. Governors have continued to appoint candidates representing special interests to the board, and legislators have continued to confirm them. In fact, appointing special interests is now expected of politicians, who even promise in election-campaigns to “balance the board.”

But what is balance? The most recent attempt at balance, by Governor Hickel, has resulted in a board of three commercial fishermen, three sport fishermen, and one subsistence fisherman who is also a commercial fisherman. This, some would say, is a balanced board.

Commercial interests argue that the board should be weighted in their favor, since the importance of jobs and the monetary value of commercial catches obviously exceed the importance of mere sport.

Sport interests argue that the board should be weighted in their favor, because their gamefish are also their foodfish, and sport fishing is coming into its own, economically, and sport users outnumber all others.

Subsistence interests argue that the board should be weighted in their favor, because subsistence has both legal and moral priority over all other uses.

Which interest is most right? All of them? None of them?

Unfortunately, the interest with the most money has always been “right.” Right now, that’s the commercials. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see sport interests dominating the Board of Fisheries within a year or two. The economic value of a salmon caught on hook and line already far exceeds the value of one in a gill net, and the gap grows daily. Each year, tourism puts more Alaskans to work and brings in more “outside” dollars.

But while a board controlled by sport-fishing interests is pleasant to contemplate, it wouldn’t be ideal. So long as any special interest group makes regulatory decisions affecting commonly owned resources, the resources are in jeopardy, and we’re all losers. Imagine a not-far-off future with Big Tourism holding two or three seats on the board. Would that be any better for the resource than commercial fishing?

I don’t think so. I think a better idea is to keep the present lay, volunteer status of board members, but require them to have absolutely no economic or political interest in fisheries.

Commercial fishermen reading this will say board members need fishing experience before they’re smart enough to sit on the board. Nonsense, I say. What board members don’t need is the bias and conflicts of interest that come with ownership of limited-entry permits. They can get their “experience” from advisory boards, and their technical knowledge from Department of Fish and Game staff.

Legislators who want to avoid future allocation battles should write laws that change the way Board of Fisheries members are chosen. The present board makeup, aside from being unconstitutional, corrupts all who use it to their advantage. Worse, it has the potential to endanger our fisheries resources. It’s high time it was changed.

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

More in Life

Gold Peak play the opening set of the Seventh Annual Rock’N the Ranch at the Rusty Ravin on Friday, July 7, 2023, at Rusty Ravin Plant Ranch in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Gold Peak play the opening set of the Seventh Annual Rock’N the Ranch at the Rusty Ravin on Friday, July 7, 2023, at Rusty Ravin Plant Ranch in Kenai. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Music fest returns to RustyRavin

The annual nonprofit music festival is a fundraiser for Nuk’it’un, a transitional home for men

Lisa Parker, vice mayor of Soldotna, celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
King of the River food drive extended, Kenai takes lead

The winning city’s mayor will throw the opening pitch at a Peninsula Oilers game

Chickpea lentil and spinach curry is served with rice and yogurt. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Finding comfort in memories

I believe that houses hold memories, and I hope the memory of our time there comforts it during its final, painful days.

tease
Getting creative with camping

Making healthy, diverse meals while outdoors takes some planning

James Franklin Bush was arrested and jailed for vagrancy and contributing to the delinquency of minors in California in 1960, about a year before the murder in Soldotna of Jack Griffiths. (Public document from ancestry.com)
A violent season — Part 4

James Franklin “Jim” Bush stood accused of the Soldotna murder of Jack Griffiths in October 1961

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Hard to say goodbye

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been perfectly happy with my 14-year-old, base model pickup truck.

File
Minister’s Message: Faith will lead to God’s abundance

Abundance is in many aspects of our lives, some good and some not.

[csC1—]Jack and Alice Griffiths, owners of the Circus Bar, pose together in about 1960. (Public photo from familysearch.org)
A violent season — Part 3

The second spirit, said Cunningham, belonged to Jack Griffiths….

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience, and a lot of elbow grease. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Filling the time with noodles

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience and a lot of elbow grease

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Attendees take food from a buffet during the grand opening of Siam Noodles and Food in Kenai on Tuesday.
Soldotna Thai restaurant expands to Kenai

The restaurant is next to Jersey Subs in Kenai where Thai Town used to be located

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
The Kenai Potter’s Guild’s annual exhibition, “Clay on Display,” is seen at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday.
Expression in a teapot at July art center show

Kenai Art Center’s annual pottery show takes front gallery, with memories of Japan featured in the back