Les Palmer: The state of the Kenai, Part 2

Author’s note: Part 2 in a series of two columns.

Over the years, fish habitat and the quality of the fishing experience have deteriorated on the Kenai River. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing — fishing more and enjoying it less — we’re setting ourselves up for what happened in the Pacific Northwest, where salmon increasingly face extinction.

When I ask people what they think ought to be done to improve the Kenai River’s fish habitat or its fishing, I get a lot of “we need fish-board members and politicians who will make some positive changes.” That’s true enough, but it’s not the whole story. While members of the Board of Fisheries, state legislators and various members of local governments do have the authority to affect change, the real power to change things comes from the people. Nothing significant will be done for Kenai River fish or fishing until people want it to be done.

How many people will it take?

It’ll take enough to over-ride the nay-sayers, the dooms-day prophets and the commercial interests that can’t see beyond their bottom lines. Enough to sway votes in favor of fish and fishing. Enough to get the right people appointed and elected. Enough to accomplish the things that must be done, such as:

■ To ensure healthy salmon runs and to provide a quality fishing experience, fishing pressure must be reduced on Cook Inlet and the Kenai River. All use must be reduced and limited, with commercial use first. Far too many people now rely on this fragile, finite resource for a living. Commercial users shouldn’t be depended upon to “self limit.”

■ To make the river a more productive place for spawning and rearing salmon, a 15-year moratorium should be placed on the use of power boats on the Kenai. This would help to restore the Kenai to quieter, more natural state, as well as improving fish habitat and reducing turbidity and erosion due to boat wakes.

■ Sanctuaries should be created to ensure the sustainability of the various groups of salmon with discrete life histories. For example, at least some early-run king salmon should be allowed to spawn in their traditional areas of the main-stem Kenai without being caught in July, during the late-run king salmon fishery. As now managed, some of these unique salmon groups may be in a “threatened” status.

If you’re wondering, I’m well aware that something in the marine environment is the likely cause of the dismal statewide king salmon runs in recent years, not something in the Kenai River. But I’m also aware that we —individuals, groups, bureaucrats, politicians, all of us — haven’t been looking far enough into the future. We’ve put economics ahead of conservation. We’ve neither paid enough or pushed hard enough for agencies and fishing organizations to be more proactive. We should be doing what’s best for the salmon, not what’s best for the “greatest good,” or for the group that shows up with the most people at meetings.

The above proposals and other similar proposals were considered by the Board of Fisheries at it’s meeting earlier this year, but they didn’t get enough support to win approval. What will it take to win that approval?

Ensuring sustainable salmon runs and improving the quality of the fishing experience will require a strong, collective will. This means our attitudes toward salmon will have to change. As a culture, not as disparate groups of users, we need to learn to relate more closely to salmon than we have in the past. As a culture, we need to feel more responsible for them. In a cooperative effort, we need to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to ensure that salmon spawning and rearing habitats remain healthy, and that fishing practices don’t endanger salmon sustainability. Historically, we’ve failed spectacularly at this level of caring and commitment. Like sea gulls, we’ve ceaselessly bickered over who gets what fish.

Minus a strong, collective will and some changed attitudes, I fear that we’ll squabble salmon into extinction, and that our “world-class” fishing will become nothing but a cheap, world-class tourist trap.

In “King of Fish, the Thousand-Year Run of Salmon,” author David R. Montgomery wrote,“Under human influences the landscape gradually evolved right out from under salmon.” In a more positive vein he noted that “Salmon and civilization can coexist, if we so choose.” Keeping these points in mind will help us focus on doing the right thing for the Kenai River and salmon.

Thinking about the multitude of forces working against salmon can be depressing, but I haven’t given up hope that we can learn from our past mistakes. With enough persistence, enthusiasm and cooperation, we can do it, or at least I hope we can. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without salmon.

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

More in Life

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Spring Fever

“OK, Boomer” is supposed to be the current put down by the “woke generation”

A headstone for J.E. Hill is photographhed in Anchorage, Alaska. (Findagrave.com)
Night falls on the Daylight Kid — Part 2

“Bob,” he said, “that crazy fool is shooting at us.”

File
Minister’s Message: Has spring sprung in your life?

Christ also offers us an eternal springtime of love, hope and life

Eggs Benedict are served with hollandaise on a bed of arugula and prosciutto. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Honoring motherhood, in joy and in sorrow

Many who have suffered this loss believe they must bear it in silence for the sake of propriety

Page from Seward daily gateway. (Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum, Juneau, A.K.)
Night falls on the Daylight Kid — Part 1

Night Falls on the Daylight Kid—Part One By Clark Fair

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Spread love in these challenging times

I don’t know about you all, but the world feels pretty rough these days

Photos by Sean McDermott 
Artist Amber Webb starts works on a new drawing at Bunnell Street Arts Center. Her work will be on display at the gallery through the month of May.
Where the waters mixed

Artist uses art to explore the blurred boundaries between sorrow and celebration, hardship and healing

A copy of “Firefighting: the Financial Crisis and Its Lessons” rests against a typewriter on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: An economy on fire

“Firefighting: The Financial Crisis and Its Lessons” gives a retrospective on the 2008 financial crisis

Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion
Prints are featured in the “Open Watercolor” show at the Kenai Art Center on Wednesday.
Playing with paint

Art center’s new exhibit displays the versatility of watercolors

Kalbi ribs can be served with an assortment of side dishes, including white rice, kimchi, roasted garlic cloves, broccoli salad, dumplings and soup. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Marking 1 year with a festive feast

Kalbi marinade makes ribs that taste like a party

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Moving on

I suggested to my wife that we could replace the old kids’ car with something “fun”

On Oct. 3, 1945, the Spokane Chronicle published this A.P. photo of Miriam Mathers and her goats as she prepared to board a Seattle steamship bound for Seward.
Tragedy and triumph of the Goat Woman — Part 4

Mathers had only three cents in her purse when she arrived in Kenai