We know, life isn’t fair. Why should we expect Board of Fisheries politics to be any different?
The fish board on Monday voted 5-2 to keep the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting — the one where the vast majority of proposals revolve around the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and associated fisheries — in Anchorage. The board, which takes up Upper Cook Inlet issues on a three-year cycle, hasn’t met on the central Kenai Peninsula since 1999.
That two board members, Sue Jeffrey and Fritz Johnson, voted in favor of moving the meeting to the peninsula, is progress.
But with the decision to keep the meeting in Anchorage, the board effectively voted to limit access to the board process for Kenai Peninsula residents.
According to reporting by the Alaska Journal of Commerce, board members listed fears of influence peddling, political perceptions, security, convenience and fairness — as if we’re to believe that none of those issues exist with an Anchorage meeting location.
Board members called Anchorage the center of the Upper Cook Inlet area, ignoring the fact that the Kenai Peninsula is the epicenter of Cook Inlet fishing.
And board members said an Anchorage location would be fair to a majority of users, with board member John Jensen saying “user groups don’t have to spend that much time up here. If they have to come up for one part of the meeting, they know where it is.”
Of course, the problem with that logic is that the board has a history of introducing and approving controversial proposals long after people who can only attend part of the two-week meeting have come and gone.
As for being fair to a majority of users, that sentiment represents an even bigger problem. The majority of users in the Anchorage and Mat-Su regions — people who can commute to a fish board meeting on a daily basis — are sport- and personal-use fishery participants. How is holding a meeting where one user group has better access than another fair? What about being fair to the area where the majority of use happens?
And let’s be honest — by the time the fish board enters its second week, the only people attending from any user group are the ones who are being paid to be there, and the ones who can’t afford not to be there.
We’re not asking that every Upper Cook Inlet meeting be on the Kenai Peninsula. While it would be nice for all Kenai Peninsula residents who have an interest in fish policy, we realize it wouldn’t be fair. Every other cycle would certainly be a reasonable compromise.
But to never have a fish board meeting here? Now that’s unfair.