Assembly, councils ask fish board to meet on peninsula

Local government bodies on the central Kenai Peninsula really want the state Board of Fisheries to hold a meeting here.

The board, which meets to discuss Upper Cook Inlet management area fisheries issues once every three years, is a major confluence of sport, commercial, subsistence and personal-use fishermen alike. Most people on the Kenai Peninsula participate in one fishery or another, many making a livelihood at least partially based on fisheries.

The board usually rotates its meeting locations for its various fisheries, but for Upper Cook Inlet, the board hasn’t held a full meeting on the central Kenai Peninsula since 1999. Part of the argument was that it was too expensive to hold a meeting away from Anchorage, where most of the staff lives and where there is more meeting space; another part dates back to the 1999 meeting, when some board members said they felt threatened by attendees’ behavior.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed a resolution on Tuesday asking the board to hold its 2020 meeting on the central peninsula. The resolution, sponsored by Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and assembly members Dale Bagley and Willy Dunne, notes that the board will consider the location for its next Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting at an upcoming worksession held Oct. 17–19.

“The management and health of Upper Cook Inlet finfish has a major impact on residents and visitors to the Kenai Peninsula,” the memo states. “Attending these meetings in Anchorage can be cost prohibitive to many people from the Kenai Peninsula, regardless of how they participate in the fishery.”

The cities of Soldotna and Kenai passed similar resolutions at their most recent city council meetings. They’ve all passed similar resolutions in the past and banded together in 2015 with offers of free meeting space, transportation and coffee to entice the board to meet on the central peninsula. However, the board rejected the offer, having already set its 2017 meeting for Anchorage and saying the offer of free space, transportation and coffee muddied the process for deciding a meeting location.

In October 2016, the board held a worksession in Soldotna for three days, which went peacefully and was well attended by local stakeholders and government officials. During the meeting, multiple speakers said they hoped the board would decide to come back in 2020.

The meeting location is in part political. Upper Cook Inlet finfish meetings, which largely deal with salmon allocation, are notoriously conflict-ridden and can run for two weeks. In the past, the board members have chosen Anchorage to host a meeting because it is a “neutral” location where no fishery directly occurs, but stakeholders in both the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and on the Kenai Peninsula have said they want a meeting in their communities.

The Board of Fisheries is scheduled to discuss the location for its 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17. For those unable to attend, the meetings are streamed online on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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