Fish board does disservice to Kenai Peninsula

  • Thursday, October 16, 2014 9:01pm
  • Opinion

Flabbergasted.

That word most accurately sums up our feelings upon hearing that the Board of Fisheries has once again snubbed Kenai Peninsula residents and will hold its next Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage in 2017.

There are a lot of other words that come to mind as well, but the bottom line is the fish board is knowingly and willingly preventing many of us who make our home on the Kenai Peninsula from effectively participating in a public process that impacts our way of life.

Board members voted 6-1 to keep the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage. Karl Johnstone, Tom Kluberton, John Jensen, Orville Huntington, Sue Jeffrey and Reed Morisky voted to keep the meeting in Anchorage. Fritz Johnson voted to change the meeting location, saying that a meeting in the Kenai-Soldotna area is “long overdue.”

The fish board, which sets fishery management policy in Alaska, takes up each region of the state on a three-year cycle. The board met on Upper Cook Inlet finfish this past winter — in Anchorage. In fact, the board has met in Anchorage to make decisions on central Kenai Peninsula fisheries for the past 15 years. The last time a full fish board meeting on Upper Cook Inlet finfish was on the peninsula was 1999.

At this point, it seems a waste of time trying to understand the logic behind meeting in Anchorage. Board members say it is a neutral site for the meeting, while stressing the importance of meeting in the communities impacted by its decisions when scheduling meeting for other regions. For most people interested in participating, the prospect of spending two weeks in Anchorage, with the associated costs for food and lodging, make the site inaccessible.

In making its decision on where to hold upcoming meetings, the fish board ignored the pleas from fishermen, asking the board to meet on the Kenai Peninsula. It ignored the stacks of public comment, asking the board to meet on the Kenai Peninsula. It ignored resolutions from multiple municipal governments, asking the board to meet on the Kenai Peninsula. And it ignored a letter from the Kenai Peninsula’s legislative delegation asking that the board meet on the Kenai Peninsula.

The board did vote to conduct a work session on the Kenai Peninsula in 2016, with an opportunity for public comment, but quite frankly, that’s not good enough. With its decision to keep the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage, the board has effectively disenfranchised a large segment of the population directly affected by board decisions.

What’s more, there is no recourse; even Gov. Sean Parnell commented during a recent candidate forum that he tried to get the board to meet here in the past, to no avail.

While the governor and the Legislature are not able to dictate where the board meets, the governor does determine who sits on the board, and the Legislature confirms those nominations. As the terms of current board members expire, it will be up to our elected representatives to carefully weigh the candidates selected to fill those seats. Because if members of the board aren’t willing to discuss fishery issues in a forum where the people who are affected are able to participate, they don’t belong on the board.

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