Board of Fish should put fish and Alaskans first

Salmon and other fish must be prioritized for the owners of the resource first.

  • By Sens. Shelley Hughes and Bill Wielechowski and Reps. DeLena Johnson and Chris Tuck
  • Saturday, February 1, 2020 9:11pm
  • Opinion

Few things bring Alaskans together more than sportfishing. When we stand next to each other in hip boots, casting lines into beautiful, glacial fed water, day-to-day controversial topics dissolve. Politics, race, and creed are irrelevant. We are simply Alaskans who love to fish in this exquisite playground provided by our Creator. The world sees Alaska as a model for management and open public process regarding decisions that impact the rivers and streams with which we are blessed.

That model has allowed Alaska’s fisheries to be an integral and significant part of our economy. At present, constituents are concerned about the health of the Cook Inlet fishery. Annually, hundreds of calls and emails from Alaskans seek the status of salmon runs. The reports in recent years have been dismal and concerning to Alaskans because they not only enjoy the thrill of catching fish, but more importantly, they rely on the high-quality protein to fill their freezers and sustain their families.

As pointed out in a recent editorial, the value of fish in the Cook Inlet region is maximized when the fish are made available directly to individuals. The idea that sportfishing is a hobby that provides merely a distraction from the hustle and bustle of an 8-5 job is misplaced. Alaskans don’t just love access to fishing — they need it.

In the coming days, the Board of Fisheries will meet to make critical decisions affecting the future of fishing in Cook Inlet — from Kasilof to Mat-Su. This group of volunteers has the best interests of the state’s fisheries at heart, and we are grateful for their service. We encourage Alaskans to take advantage of this process by testifying in person at the Egan Center in Anchorage Feb. 8-9 (though we note, Alaskans with an interest in testifying will need to sign up before 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7).

Emphasis should be placed on putting more fish into the rivers and streams of Cook Inlet. Salmon and other fish must be prioritized for the owners of the resource first, and later for commercial sale. This means increasing access to personal use fisheries, especially in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley which has struggled with low fish returns in recent years. Management practices must change to address this real and troubling problem.

It is only fair to ask the Board to enact policies that strengthen and share the important work of conservation among all users. One user group should not be charged alone with the work of conserving a commonly enjoyed resource; it is well past time to require all user groups to do their part.

The good news is the state has pioneered great tools that are at the Board’s disposal to address this issue. Paired restrictions on the Kenai should be stronger and we encourage the Board to make that management tool available in other areas of our state. Another tool, the conservation corridor in use in the Cook Inlet, has helped relieve pressure from the fleet and allowed passage of more fish to the Mat-Su. It also should be strengthened and expanded as science dictates.

It is our hope that the Board members will keep individual Alaskans in the forefronts of their minds as they make decisions regarding the best ways to manage this precious resource. They must remember that Alaskans who fish, are fishing for personal consumption.

We maintain that the most important fish in Alaska are the fish on Alaskans’ dinner plates.

“Alaskans first.” We’ve heard those words throughout our state’s history, and they remain a compelling call to action today. Hardworking Alaskans deserve priority access to the state’s fish. Just like our oil, which is held in common for the benefit of all citizens, our fish should be managed and sustained for the maximum benefit of the people: to feed our families and our spirits, now and for generations to come.

• By Sens. Shelley Hughes and Bill Wielechowski and Reps. DeLena Johnson and Chris Tuck

More in Opinion

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau